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New Year's Day polar bear dippers take plunge

New Year's Day polar bear dippers take plungeErnie Ross, 79, welcomes the new year as he prepares to leap from the government wharf into the frigid North Atlantic in the annual New Year's Day polar bear swim in Herring Cove, N.S. on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

VANCOUVER - Snow and sub-zero temperatures may have been on the minds of many polar-bear swimmers across Canada on Wednesday, except in southwestern British Columbia where the thermometer climbed well above zero.

At Vancouver's English Bay, a water temperature of 8C, an air temperature of 6C and a lack of wind combined to create the right conditions for a record-breaking swim, said city spokesman Sean Healy.

"This year we had 2,550 swimmers at the polar bear swim, which is a record, previously eclipsing a record of 2,246 in 2011, with approximately 10,000 spectators," he said.

In fact, just before participants sprinted into the water, organizers warned revellers not to stay in the water longer than 30 minutes.

Minutes later, though, the race was on, and swimmers -- sporting everything from bikinis to Santa Claus suits, and even a first communion dress -- were racing for the ocean.

"I heard if you do it, you can call yourself a real Canadian," said Stuart Irvine-Brown who was visiting from Australia's Gold Coast and was wearing a red Speedo-like swimsuit.

On the beach, too, was Tracey Clarke of Surrey, B.C., who said she spent two hours preparing for the swim, painting her face so she resembled a zombie and donning her daughter's white, first-communion dress.

"I love it," she shouted while emerging from her 20th polar-bear swim. "Why not? It's refreshing. You bring in a new year. Out with the old, in with the new."

Also present was Eri Okinaga who said she returned to Vancouver from Japan to participate in her first swim.

"We promised, you know. I went back to Japan but I came back for this ... and we are crazy," she said.

Meantime, Goldie Hoffman, a former resident of New York and Montreal, wore a pink wig, a black-and-white body suit and green bikini to what she said was her first polar-bear swim.

"It's something new, and I want to usher in the new year doing something really crazy."

There were a number of other events that took place in BC.

In Oakville, near Toronto, people clad in bathing suits braved frosty air as they waded into the frigid waters of Lake Ontario.

Swims took place in a number of other communities including Halifax and Calgary.

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