The pandemic couldn’t freeze the spirit of a handful of people who plunged into the frigid waters of Lake Erie in a New Year’s Day ritual.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings, organizers cancelled the annual Polar Bear Dip that traditionally draws a crowd of participants and spectators to the beach at Port Dover.
But, over the lunch hour Friday, with a cold breeze blowing off the lake and the thermometer registering just 1 degree Celsius, a few people appeared, stripped off layers of warm clothing and ran into the lake.
Justin Greiser, 38, of Bills Corners, a Norfolk County hamlet, said he would take part in the Polar Bear Dip when he was younger.
He got back into the tradition three years ago when his in-laws began taking part.
Greiser said the jump into the lake has led to good years for him.
“It seems like the year starts off with a nice, fresh calling of the lake.”
Greiser used to work on bulk self-unloading carriers on the Great Lakes.
“Sometimes the water calls our name.”
On Friday, he brought along two friends, who are newcomers to the tradition.
Rick Pierog of Port Dover said the experience was “exhilarating,” a description echoed by Tom Van Hooren of Vittoria.
“It was freezing, but it was refreshing,” Van Hooren said. “Once you get out, you warm up immediately.”
Norfolk County discouraged people from gathering for a dip on New Year’s Day.
“Ontario is currently under a 28-day lockdown with the goal of stopping the spread of COVID-19 and reducing case numbers across the province,” Matt Terry, a spokesperson for Norfolk, said earlier this week in a statement. “As part of this lockdown, the province has capped the number of people allowed to gather outdoors at 10.
“The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit continues to urge people to avoid gathering with anyone they don’t live with, including at informal events like the polar bear swim,” he said.
“The best way to stop the spread of COVID-19 is to minimize contact with others and to stay home as much as possible, especially during the provincial lockdown.”
Last Friday’s swimmers complied with the provincial health regulations.
Organizers of “polar swims” across the country invited people to participate in COVID-friendly dips with backyard adaptations or physically distanced events.