Blue skies and temperatures hovering above the freezing mark made it almost a pleasure to participate in the annual Innisfil Community Events Corporation (ICE Corp.) Polar Bear Dip, on Saturday afternoon.
Almost, but not quite.
A total of 41 brave ‘polar bears’, singly or in pairs, took the plunge into the frigid waters of Lake Simcoe – leaping into a hole cut into the half-metre-thick ice, off Innisfil Beach Park.
Firefighters with Innisfil Fire & Rescue cut the hole on Friday afternoon, and had to clear off a skim of clear ice that had reformed, before the brave participants could take their dip. Firefighters, wearing survival suits, stood in the waist-deep water, to assist the dippers out of the lake after their jump.
Approximately 400 people came out to watch the spectacle; so many, that their weight caused ominous cracking and depressed the ice to the point that water flooded the area around the hole, to a depth of about 10 cm.
Organizers had to ask watchers to move back, away from the hole, for safety reasons.
Dippers included MP for Barrie-Innisfil John Brassard – “I do this every year,” he said, the first one into the lake – as well as father-son teams, friends taking the challenge, and a team from Sunset Speedway.
This year’s Polar Bear Dip was a fundraiser for the Innisfil Food Bank, and Sunset Speedway raised a total of $900 for the cause.
“On behalf of the Innisfil Food Bank, we want to thank you all for all of your contributions,” said Pastor Howard Courtney, noting that the food bank, located at Innisfil Community Church, assists more than 100 families every month.
“You’re helping to make this a stronger community,” he said, and a better community.
Some of the dippers, like firefighter Craig Henderson, have taken the plunge every year, raising funds for charities in the community.
For others, this year’s dip was the first. Michelle Druzina and Farren Giedraitis came all the way from Toronto to take the challenge for the first. They even brought matching costumes, dressed up as Kosher Dill pickles.
After their jumps, the polar bears were warmed with hot chocolate from Starbucks, pizza provided by Domino’s, and the thought that they had raised $2,515 for the Innisfil Food Bank.