polarbeardip



The Courage brothers’ charity polar bear dip has inspired similar events in southern Ontario, but none is as large — or as flashy — as the Jan. 1 swim in Oakville, which attracts up to 5,000 spectators each year. Last year, more than 700 dippers came out for the event, which features a wildly popular costume contest. So far, the polar bear dip has raised $810,000 for World Vision's international clean water projects. (Photo courtesy World Vision)



How the Courage brothers turned a New Year's Day lark
into Canada's largest — and festive — charity polar bear dip


News Archive

VIDEO BONUS!


BY LINDA MONDOUX

Tired of seeing her grown boys sitting around on New Year’s Day complaining there was nothing to do, Gaye Courage half-jokingly suggested they “go jump in the lake.”  That’s exactly what Todd and Trent Courage did on that chilly day in 1985.  

No one could have predicted that a Jan. 1 dip in Lake Ontario with friends in Burlington would morph into a popular annual event that would raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for World Vision’s program to bring fresh water to communities on the other side of the globe.  

But that’s exactly what happened.  

Todd, now 48, and Trent, 44, are preparing for the 27th annual Courage Polar Bear Dip, which was moved years ago to Coronation Park in Oakville after the initial Jan. 1 swims with friends and family grew and grew into what is today Canada’s largest charity polar bear event.  

“We hope to raise $150,000 again this year,” Todd tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com, adding that the New Year’s Day event has taken on a life of its own. “It just keeps growing and that keeps us going. When we went to Rwanda in 2009 to see where the money raised went, that put new life into it. It was an incredible experience.”  

Last year, more than 700 dippers come out for the event. “Even if we didn’t put it on, people would still come out and get into the water on Jan. 1. It’s become a real tradition — lots of fun for a good cause.”  

The Courage brothers’ charity polar bear dip has inspired similar events in southern Ontario, but none is as large — or as flashy — as the Jan. 1 swim in Oakville, which attracts up to 5,000 spectators each year.   “About 10 years ago, people started dressing up in costumes,” says Todd. “That’s when we decided to bring in a costume contest. It’s a really festive atmosphere with the costumes, live music and celebrities.”
  

Water for water theme

The brothers, who own a company that distributes window films, teamed up the annual polar bear dip with World Vision in 1995. “By that time, we had enough people coming out that it had become more of an official event. So we thought, why not take advantage of that and do some good? We took the event to Coronation Park and brought in World Vision. We liked the ‘water for water’ theme.”  

So far, the polar bear dip has raised $810,000 for World Vision’s international clean water projects. Proceeds from the 2012 dip will be used to help build wells in Tanzania. Both participants and spectators can either raise money through advance pledges, or by dropping off cash or a cheque at the registration desk the day of the dip.  

“The Courage brothers’ Polar Bear Dip is proof of what’s possible when caring people come together for a meaningful cause — like clean water for Africa,” Michael Messenger, executive vice-president of World Vision Canada, says in a news release announcing that celebrity chef Roger Mooking will conduct a hot cocoa demonstration at the upcoming dip. “The water projects funded by Polar Bear Dip supporters are delivering real and lasting change to some of the world’s most vulnerable children and their communities. We’re thankful for this incredible partnership.”  

The party starts on Jan. 1 at 12:30 p.m. with registration and live music from Whaling on the main stage in Coronation Park, located on Lakeshore Road West, just east of Third Line. The hot cocoa demo begins at 1 p.m., followed by the costume contest at 1:15 p.m. —  past costumes have included everything from cows to hockey players in full regalia. The polar dip begins at 2 p.m., with a post-dip party at 3 p.m. at Tin Cup Sports Grill, where free chili awaits.  

While other polar bear dips bring out mostly young “crazies,” the Courage brothers’ event is a true family affair. The men’s mother has joined them for a dip in the past, and the event continues to inspire their own children, as well as other young people like Adam Mills. The youngster with a social conscience made headlines last year when he raised more than $1,000 for the cause as a 10-year-old, creating a Twitter page to promote awareness of World Vision’s water project in Tanzania.
 

'You run in, you run out'

While the polar bear dip is all about having fun, Todd Courage says the event’s fundraising component is equally as important. “Three million people die every year from contaminated water,” he says. “There is still a lot of work to be done to bring fresh water to people, not just in Africa but around the world.”  

If you plan to join the dippers in Oakville this year, a reminder that Lake Ontario is ccccold! The water temperature on Jan. 1 is expected to be 1 or 2 degrees Celsius. “You run in, you run out,” advises Todd, who says you shouldn’t stay in longer than three crawl strokes.  

Dippers are also asked not to drink alcohol before they jump in the lake: rather than warm you up, alcohol will speed up hypothermia. And you don’t want that!  

Heated change tents to get the chill out will be available for men and women after the dip. There will also be portable washrooms on site. There is no age restriction for the dip, but participants under 18 must have their waiver signed by a parent.  

Feel like double-dipping on Jan. 1? Choose a venue from our list of major New Year’s Day charity polar bear dip events:  

TORONTO

Sears Great Canadian Chill
Woodbine Beach (Ashbridge’s Bay Park)
1675 Lakeshore Blvd. E.
 

The traditional polar bear dip in Lake Ontario raises money for the Sears Charitable Foundation to fund the 17 Canadian children’s pediatric oncology centres.  

TIME
Check-in begins at 11 a.m.; official welcome and costume contest begins at 11:45 a.m.; dip at noon.  

HIGHLIGHTS
Hot chocolate and light food from local restaurants will be provided; music; parking on site.  

     

TORONTO

Toronto Polar Bear Dip
Sunnyside Beach
1775 Lakeshore Blvd. W.
 

The annual dip in Lake Ontario raises money for Habitat for Humanity Toronto to provide housing for low-income families. Organizers are looking for more than 300 dippers and hope to raise more than $40,000. Participants must raise a minimum of $20, either through pledges or via donation at check-in.  

TIME
Registration opens at 11:15 a.m.; dip at noon  

HIGHLIGHTS
Special guests, Toronto Triumph women’s football team members; live music; lone bagpiper Kathleen Tham will pipe dippers to the water.

        

CLARINGTON 

Clarington Polar Bear Swim
Newcastle waterfront
Mill Street South
 

The annual Lake Ontario “Plunge for Life” raises money for SickKids Foundation for research into pediatric liver disease and raises awareness for the urgent need for tissue and organ donation.  Pledge and registration forms are available online.  

TIME
Dip begins at 2 p.m.; come earlier to register  

HIGHLIGHTS
Food and music; parking on site limited, but shuttle available from IGA parking lot in downtown Newcastle; gift package to first 140 swimmers to raise at least $30 in pledges.

          

HAMILTON

2012 CAPPY Polar Bear Dip
Hutch’s family restaurant
280 Van Wagner’s Beach Rd.
 

This is the first of what will become an annual polar bear dip in Lake Ontario to raise funds for the Community Child Abuse Council of Canada and to help raise awareness for sexually abused children in Hamilton. Registration and pledge forms online.    

TIME

Dip at noon.  
   

PORT DOVER

Polar Bear Plunge & New Year’s Day Levee 
Main Beach/Knechtel’s food concession
1 Walker St.
 

This 27th annual dip into the icy waters of Lake Erie, followed by a levee and fiddle party, raises funds for the Port Dover Leo Club’s improvements at Silver Lake Park (club will collect donations on site) and collects donations for the food bank.  

TIME
Meet at Knechtel’s at 12:45; dip at 1 p.m.  

HIGHLIGHTS
Change rooms at Knechtel’s; dip followed by the 10th annual Captain’s Polar Bear Levee at the Port Dover Harbour Museum from 1 to 4 p.m.; includes open acoustic jam session, hot chocolate, cookies, vintage home movies.  
   

SARNIA

NOTE: Jan. 2
Polar Bear Dip Sarnia Riding Club
980 Riding Club Lane


The polar bear dip in Lake Huron raises money for Right to Play, an international organization dedicated to providing sport and play to children everywhere. Organizers hope to raise $5,000. The registration fee for the dip is $15, and participants are asked to raise at least $50.

TIME
Registration begins at 11 a.m.; dip at 12:30 p.m.  

HIGHLIGHTS
Warm beverages, baked goods provided. For every $50 a participant raises, that person gets one ballot for a grand prize draw. Event includes a benefit concert at the club at 8 p.m., and organizers will show the 2012 NHL Winter Classic between Philadelphia and the New York Rangers on a big screen projector. 
    

OTTAWA

Sears Great Canadian Chill
Britannia Beach
2805 Carling Ave.
 

The traditional polar bear dip in the Ottawa River raises money for the Sears Charitable Foundation to fund the 17 Canadian children’s pediatric oncology centres.  

TIME
Check-in begins at 11 a.m.; official welcome and costume contest begins at 11:45 a.m.; dip at noon.  

HIGHLIGHTS
Hot chocolate and light food from local restaurants will be provided; music; parking on site.  

MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — December 2011