What has 1400 legs and celebrates a New Year in the icy waters of Lake Ontario? For Oakville’s Courage brothers, what started as a lark (not the bird), on a challenge from their mother Gaye some 27 years ago, has grown from a laugh into Oakville’s unique Courage Polar Bear Dip.
Todd and Trent Courage are local businessmen, and their mom is a visual artist and world traveler. When her boys were looking for something to do to celebrate January 1st, Gaye suggested they try a Scandinavian tradition and ‘Go jump in the lake!’ Since that initial ‘Dip’ their gathering of family and friends has grown into Canada’s largest Polar Bear Dip for charity, and attracts hundreds of participants and thousands of spectators to Oakville’s Coronation Park each New Year’s Day. “It started to get legs! Friends would talk to other friends, outside of our immediate circle, and more people would say ‘hey, we want to come join you’”, Trent says. “So it grew to a point where we thought we could do something more valuable than just jump in the water and say ‘that was fun… We’ll do that next year’. We were starting to get some publicity with the Oakville Beaver, and the Burlington Post back in the day, and so we said let’s do something better with it. And that’s when we started getting involved with charities.” Though the weather wasn’t ideal for watching the event this year, more than 700 people hit the wintery beach and raised over $130,000 for clean water projects thru World Vision.
A highlight for Trent, in recent years, as their event began with his mother and siblings, has been to take part in the annual dip with his own children. “Now my kids are much younger than I was at the time when I first went in, but you can see their enthusiasm on it. It’s funny, when you talk to the kids, yeah they think it’s a crazy thing to do but they also understand the purpose behind it! One time I asked my middle guy… He was about to go out and ask the neighbours to help and sponsor him. I said ‘so what are you going to tell them?’ He says ‘Well, I’m going to tell them I’m jumping in the lake on January 1st, and that it’s really cold, but it’s to help bring some clean water to a lot of people who don’t have access to it. And, if they don’t get access to it, they might just die and they don’t get a chance to go to school.’ So our talks at the dinner table, and him hearing me, in listening to different interviews… It doesn’t go without the kids picking up on it. So, it was really nice to hear that an eight year old was pretty articulate on his perspective on it.”
If you’d like more information on Oakville’s Courage Polar Bear Dip, or to find out how you can take part next year, visit: www.polarbeardip.ca