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Nova Scotia kicks off New Year’s Day polar bear dips in spite of extreme cold

Ernie Ross, 83, jumps into the frigid North Atlantic in Herring Cove, N.S., as he participates in the annual polar bear swim on Monday, Jan. 1, 2018.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Organizers cancelled two New Year's Day polar bear dips in Ontario because of the frigid temperatures, but not even a layer of ice could stop hundreds of people from plunging into the freezing waters of Herring Cove, N.S.

Just hours before it was scheduled to begin, organizers of the Courage Polar Bear Dip in Oakville, Ont., announced they were calling off the event because of "significant" ice and rock movement that would have made the plunge unsafe.

They said it was the first time in 33 years the event had been cancelled.

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Toronto organizers cancelled their New Year's Day plunge on Sunday.

In spite of the extreme cold warnings issued by Environment Canada that covered much of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and southern Quebec, many events went ahead.

The dip outside Halifax was only delayed a few minutes while a boat chipped away at a sheet of ice covering the cove.

Once the water was cleared, 83-year-old Arnie Ross took the inaugural leap with "2018" scrawled across his chest.

The crowd chanted his name as Ross clawed up the icy ladder. He said the water was every bit as refreshing as it had been for his past 21 jumps.

"Twenty-two years," he exclaimed, flexing his muscles for the crowd.

Robert Garnier said he has braved snowstorms, pounding surf and biting winds in his 27 years taking the plunge, a New Year tradition he said he inherited from his late father.

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"He said, 'How you live this day is how you live the rest of your year,"' said Garnier. "I start it with a bang and look at it like a rebirth, if you will, or a baptism to 2018."

About 250 jumpers followed the octogenarian into the ice-cold water, organizers said, including children as young as 10, international students and burly men donning Hawaiian skirts and kilts.

While temperatures were frigid across most of the country, hundreds of dippers across B.C.'s South Coast were greeted with sunshine and a high of 4 C.

Garett Clayton took his first polar bear dip in Victoria.

"It's something I've wanted to do for a very long time," he said. "My parents did it a long time ago and I just thought it was the coolest thing ever."

Wearing a festive Santa hat, veteran dipper Monica Flexhaug said she was taking part for the third time.

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"2018 is going to be a great year, might as well start it great and chipper," she said.

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