Campbell River, British Columbia
We welcome contributing columnist, Iain-Jamie Peterson.
Iain also writes for one of our local newspapers and has allowed us to reprint some of his writings here.

Caledonian Corner

Among throng plunging into the chuck

Happy New Year’s everybody!

 New Year’s Day 2001 was mild and overcast with a calm sea when I took a hike down Saratoga Beach. I encountered a dead octopus floating upside down and unfortunately, I wasn’t carrying my Chinese astrological charts to see if this was a good omen before what I perceived to be the dreaded polar bear swim at high noon.

The crew from the Fishermen’s Lodge were down on the beach early and soon had two huge bonfires blazing and giving off a powerful heat. Later on, the service clubs arrived and set up their barbecues along with Campbell River’s two radio stations.
However, what really let me know that the Polar Bear was a big event, was the arrival of Porta-Potties portables. With a projected crowd of some 2,000 souls and two portable units available for use, I think they might just have under-ordered a wee bit.

Just before 11 a.m., the unmistakable sounds of bagpipes could be heard as the pipers of Branch #137 Royal Canadian Legion warmed up for the occasion. About half-an-hour later they marched down Clarkson Drive to the beach access road right beside Saratoga Beach Resort.
Appropriately, the pipers played “Scotland the Brave” to lift the spirits of the swimmers.

About 10 minutes before noon, Al Thompson, with a loudspeaker in hand, called all swimmers to the taped-off area to get ready for the big swim. I managed to get a position in the far back of the pack but this would have been of no help whatsoever if I had tried to do “a balk” as the throng of spectators completely enclosed the swimmers. Well, I told myself, at least I won’t get run over up front by this now anxious group of would-be swimmers.

Much to my surprise, I saw that the pipers had doffed their kilts and uniforms and were now wearing a motley assortment of shorts and T-shirts. They were obviously keeping up with that age-old tradition of playing with the troops as they advanced forward. I looked around at the swimmers, and every shape and size, male and female, were represented.

All of a sudden there was a huge hulla balloo down front with everybody jumping up and down. Newspaper photographers were taking some close-ups but it was the CHEK TV cameraman who was causing all the commotion. With all respect to Channel 10 CRTV, CHEK TV was probably thought of as “Big Time TV” and the thought of getting on the evening news clips brought out very unseemly behaviour by the crowd. Would “Caledonian Corner” do such a thing? -- darn right I would as I jumped up and down trying to catch the cameraman’s lens.

By this time I had doffed my full length Obe Wan costume because if I entered the water wearing it I would sink quicker than the Titanic.

Al finally gave us the word and this huge mass of humanity took off in the direction of Mitlenatch Island. Water was flying everywhere and a few swimmers managed to trip up. They at least got the agony over quickly. I eventually managed to get to an area where the water was over my waist and everything from my toes up felt numb. With the water deep enough, I dove in, got my head well and truly dunked. Duty done, I scampered back to the warmth of the fires and my towels. Three pipes were ahead of me and it was really neat getting piped back in and out of the salt chuck.

When all was said and done, some 286 people hit the salt chuck but these were the ones who registered. I’m sure many didn’t, and to my mind there was well over 300 people who did their very best to imitate a polar bear.

Perhaps next year, Big Al, you’ll get 400 crazies to participate!




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