Herring Cove Polar Polar Dip cancelled for third straight year

A man braves the elements as he jumps from the government wharf into the icy waters of the North Atlantic in Herring Cove, N.S., on Jan. 1, 2009.  (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press - image credit)
A man braves the elements as he jumps from the government wharf into the icy waters of the North Atlantic in Herring Cove, N.S., on Jan. 1, 2009. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press - image credit)

The Herring Cove Polar Dip in Halifax used to draw up to 200 thrill-seekers, keen to mark the start of the new year with a plunge into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

But for the third year in a row now, organizers have had to cancel the event.

COVID-19, the flu season and a shortage of volunteers are creating the perfect storm, according to Robert MacLellan, a member of the organizing committee.

"We jumped in –20 weather and in snowstorms and we never ever cancelled because of the weather. We were lucky that way, you know?" he said.

MacLellan, who has been involved with putting the event on since 2005, said it takes extensive planning: securing sponsors who donate food, finding volunteer first responders to ensure safety, registering participants, and eventually donating the money raised to local charities.

A long tradition

According to the organization's website, the Herring Cove Polar Bear Dip started in 1994 in a garage and saw a group of local residents jumping off the wharf for the fun of it.

Over the years it grew, attracting local politicians and, MacLellan said, in 2011 it got a boost in popularity when comedian Ron James and CBC's Rick Mercer took the plunge.

In 2015, the Herring Cove Polar Bear Dip was registered as a non-profit charity.

MacLellan said the annual event has drawn a unique community of people, with a deck party, spectators watching from the shore, and a bagpiper leading the way down to the wharf.

There was always a lot of support for first-timers too.

"'You're gonna be so excited by all the cheering and whatever, you won't even feel cold,'" he recalled telling them.

One of the best years included 20 international students from South America and Europe, MacLellan said.

But now he said it's time for him to throw in the towel.

"I don't know if it's ever gonna come back the way it was," he said. "So I think maybe it's time for, you know, younger people or somebody with a new, or newer vision or something, to step in."

And for time being, the Herring Cove Polar Dip website is encouraging people to continue the spirit of giving by donating to Feed Nova Scotia.

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