Chris Bjorgan, organizer of the annual Penguin Dip on Boxing Day in Niagara-on-the-Lake, likes a crisp, cold day for the fundraising swim.
This year, he would have been happy whatever the weather, instead of cancelling what would have been the 45th annual dip into the frigid water of Ball’s Beach.
It’s especially disappointing to have to cancel a milestone year, and will be the first time since the first dip that the annual tradition hasn’t occurred, says Bjorgan.
In the years since the swim became a fundraiser for Red Roof Retreat, founded by his sister-in-law Steffanie Bjorgan, the milestone anniversaries have been the best, bringing out a bigger crowd of swimmers and spectators, and raising much-needed funds for the organization which provides overnight care and day programs for children and young adults with special needs.
“Most years we pass a hat, and maybe raise about $1,000,” he says. “This was going to be a big one.”
Coun. Clare Cameron and her husband Mackenzie decided to experience the Penguin Dip for the first time last year, and took their three dips with the veterans.
To become a member of the NOTL Penguin Club, they’ll have to repeat that two more years, although fortunately it doesn’t have to be consecutive years.
Both said they were up for the challenge, determined to become official Penguins, and Bjorgan says this year the Camerons said they would help out with the fundraising for Red Roof.
“I thought this year we’d have in the range of 60 people,” says Bjorgan.
His brother Lorne was one of the originals, and there are swimmers, including Lorne, who will take part in the anniversary dips, although they are no longer regulars. Chris was hoping this would be such a year.
Chris, 63 years old and retired since last February, is a regular participant in the dip. He said a few years ago, a lack of publicity meant a particularly small crowd came out on Boxing Day, but the numbers have been slowly increasing, and this could have been a banner year.
Last year saw 20 swimmers and a large crowd to watch.
But COVID, especially with the recent increase in cases, makes it impossible to hold a safe event, he says.
Although swimmers could have spread out and kept their distance, moving into lockdown Boxing Day morning would have meant breaking the rules. And physical distancing in a trailer between three dips to make it an official event would have been impossible.
“It would have also been difficult with the number of spectators who would have shown up,” he says. “I would feel so bad if someone becomes ill from something I had a hand in arranging.”