Polar Bear Dip in Point Pleasant Park circa 1988?
I’m getting a bit excited. I got an email back from a guy named Rob.
Please send in your pictures.
Yes you can advertise the site on Facebook.
We had 2 young pipers last year, they have agreed to do it again.
Hope to see you at the jump !
In a few weeks I will be voluntarily throwing myself off a wharf into the frozen ocean on New Years Day, this is called the Polar Bear Dip. This will be my forth time in Halifax, and correctly my 6th consecutive Christmas-New years day swim (although Mozambique 07, Zanzibar 08 swims may not fall into polar feats).
My first did not work so well. Somehow I convinced a girl interest that I would come pick her up, we would travel to Williams Lake, and go for swim. Once we got there, I realized the lake was what one might call frozen and we needed to cut through to go for the dip. This was near Christmas as I recall of 2004, but I still wanted to attend my first official jump. New years morning, fresh was not the word of choice, I told my parents I was going to the jump, I just didn’t know where it was or what time. In a semi conscious state, I heard my parents calling local radio stations Q104, C100 and CKDU to ask where the jump was. They didn’t know. I fell back asleep with no regrets.
The following year future polar alumni Nick Campbell was ready for the jump. We arrived at the jump spot with no one to be found. The humming organs etched through the ice cubed air, bagpipes. Nick and I were not officially locals to the Herring Cove old fishing village outside of Halifax, and we had no idea about the opening ceremonies. First- The Pre Jump Pump: Local guys shotgunnin brewskies faster than I knew possible. Second is the parade of bath robed men and small children lead by token bag piper with kilt. Oh the Maritimes. And number three-Â robes off, I jumped. Actually, I did a front flip. The following day I was quoted in the local paper “Nico Koenig, first time jumper, says it’s the best way to cure a hangover”. Nick was also quoted in rival paper. As my father is an clinical therapist focusing on alcoholism, I do not remember him boasting about the review to his colleagues.
herring cove wharf, halifax
After reading the email from Rob, I passed on a message to freelance writer Holly Gordon and told her she should look into writing an article on the history and cultural significance of the event. She suggested it to her publisher, and also said I could do it myself. Well, I will try if hers does not take off. Here is a short completely unreferenced, possibly made up, and strictly googled history and origin of the polar swim.
While it may be the 15th annual polar bear dip in Herring Cove Halifax, we, the polar lineage, have been doing this kind of thing for just about as long as humans learned to jump, swim and make fire. It is of course the logical next step in our evolution. Winter swimming has been part of Scandanavian tradition for hundreds of years. It is related to the use of saunas, where by people went into cabin huddled around hot coals and chilled out. One day local Scandinavian Johann Schmoe decided to mix it up a bit by making a hole in the ice, jumping in and going back to the sauna. It is thought that having the body adjust to extreme differences in temperature has some healing effects.
Along with the healing effects, there also seems to a history of dousing with cold water related to religious tradition as a means to purify the body and soul from a year worth of sins. This can be found in Christian religions, in Russian for example as a ritual to mark the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. While in South Africa, I was told that by a friend that black people don’t like water except new years day where thousands will go to the coast to go in the water. Of course here it is summer, and the water temperature non life threatening. I was told that the reason was that it is somehow linked to the peoples Christian belief related to cleansing.
In the mid 1800s European immigrants came to America, including my own Hungarian great great grandpolar bears. The northern European traditions of winter swimming tagged along bringing with the first winter swimming clubs in Boston and New York. Stories of the great American iced swim stretch back to 1865 in Boston at the L-Street Bathhouse,Â – however it was not recognized until 40 years later where it took its first official new years day swim in the Boston Harbour in 1904. Officially the Coney Island Polar Bear club beat that date as it was founded in 1903 by The Father of Physical Culture Bernarr Macfadden (1868-1955). I would say he looks like me, atleast he has a similar inspirational nose.
the L-Street Bath house, south bostom, early 1900s
A previous New York polar bear president jokes that that the club was founded and then the members “sat around drinking and asking what they should do until two years later when someone said, ‘Why don’t we go for a swim?’”. This joke became a calling for future generations.
Is this how it works? A tradition starts in US and then takes in Canada? What ever the case, the first polar bear swim in Canada started by one of Vancouveres first Greek immigrants Peter Pantages. He started Vancouvers New Year’s Day Polar Bear Swim, and the Swim Club in 1920 out of the English Bay with 10 people and today entertains thousands. How and by whom it started in Halifax remains a mystery. Holly Gordon, as a real journalist, went off to the library today and speak to the current organizer Rob to find the details, but here is what I can figure out so far.
The Halifax polar bear swim was originally set in Black rock beach in Point pleasant park. It was an ideal location in downtown for hundreds to go for the plunge with a big enough site to run into the water and plenty of parking space. Judging by the picture shown on top – I will take a guess and say it may have began in Halifax in the mid to late 80s. The amount of chest hair, thick mustaches and lack of bathing suits correlates pretty well with time. The joy of the 80s park plunge was ruined by the increasing Halifax sewage â€“ forcing dippers to find a place to swim that would not cause some kind of mutation. My favorite article concerning this describes how Arnie Ross in 2001 ran away from the cops straight into the bacteria filled ocean to fulfill his ritual of polar bearing. Arnie, you sir are the Madiba of the polar bears. Down with the man! After this, it was clear a new spot was to be made â€“ which was 10 minutes of town in Herring Cove. Apparently this is the 15th dip, but Iâ€™m not sure if that includes that black beach dives or this relates strictly to the Herring cove jumps. It is also good to know it happens it other locations just outside of town in local surf spot Lawrencetown.
There you go, the History of the Polar Bear dip as I know it. Still questions need to be answered; why people flock to the swim? the idea of cleansing by cold water to start off the day – do people believe it works? What kind of people do this? Is it only for adrenaline junkies? Is the physical act of putting yourself in frigid water and warming up again helpful to your immune system, and how does it work exactly? What does the increasing interest in the jump say about us?
Thinking of it for myself, I jump because I really do believe it wakes you up, keeps me alive in the moment. It is a chance to challenge myself in a relatively safe environment, getting over what actually seems to be irrational. It is also a time to prove that I am also very human and fragile. I love community events, seeing people together, cheering, laughing. I am about to do a masters in community development, ofcourse I dig small community run events, I eat it up. It is also one of the few western traditions I can’t be pessimistic about. And yes, finally, it is the best cure for a new years eve party hangover.
more stunning cold people around the world- Here
straight out of the water 06, i wore a full santa suit, i almost drowned it was so heavy. i lost the beard in scramble to get out. that one was for you Arnie Ross. whoever you are.