Polar Bear Swims, Polar Bear Plunges, Polar Bear Dips, Dives or Dunks - whatever name you give it, the idea is the same. Every year crowds of people take a few moments out of New Year's Day to put reason aside and fling themselves into the nearest large body of very cold water. One session of shivering and splashing is all that's needed to consider yourself a part of the Polar Bear Club, and Toronto has no shortage of members.
If you'd like to take the plunge yourself, the best idea is to find a well-organized large group event. These are generally done in support of a charity, with swimmers taking pledges and spectators making donations to the chosen cause. As well, there are plenty of safety precautions taken to try to keep all swimmers safe. Still, there are inherent risks involved in these swims, so all of the events listed here come with detailed warnings and waivers. It's important you read them carefully before you decide to take part.
Toronto-Area Polar Bear Clubs
The Toronto Polar Bear Club (Toronto west)
These folks dip into Lake Ontario each New Year's Day in support of Habitat for Humanity Toronto. The swim takes place at Sunnyside Beach in Toronto's west end. The Toronto Polar Bear Club website has a map, forms, and recommendations for swimmers. Supporters can also make pledges online, so if you're more willing to open your wallet than your winter coat, the website is still worth a visit.
The Courage Brothers' Polar Bear Dip (Oakville)
This long-running swim takes place in Oakville at Coronation Park. Beyond large numbers of participants and spectators every year, the Courage Brothers' Polar Bear Dip offers a full-on party, with live music and a costume contest. Funds raised go to World Vision Canada.
The Clarington Polar Bear Swim (Oshawa area)
East of Oshawa, Clarington's Polar Bear Swim is held in support of two causes. Donations are given to Sick Kids Hospital to support research into pediatric liver disease, while the people of Clarington simultaneously work to raise awareness about organ donation. Visit The Clarington Polar Bear Swim website for details.
Polar Bear Club Related
The Sears Great Canadian Chill (February)
Sears holds these events in several cities across Canada. Previously the Toronto event took place at Woodbine Beach on New Year's Day, but now the event has moved to Yonge-Dundas Square for the Family Day weekend. The foundation will use the money to support children’s pediatric oncology centers in Canada, hence the event's slogan "Stopping kids cancer cold".
Toronto Winter Swimming Club
If you find you enjoy cold-water swimming too much to only do it once in your lifetime (or even once a year), you may be interested in the website or Facebook group for the Toronto Winter Swimming Club.