Pantages Polar Bear Swim

A nephew of Alexander’s, George Pantages, came to Vancouver and managed the original Pantages Theatre. He later managed the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles. George was succeeded in Vancouver by his brother Lloyd. Then Peter Pantages, yet another nephew of Alexander’s, also came to Vancouver and settled here. For locals at any rate he became the most well known of them all, as the founder of the Peter Pan Cafe on Granville Street. That cafe became a city landmark, and the home of many thousands of birthday parties, christening and wedding celebrations. But Peter, whose passion for swimming was life long, was also the founder in 1920 of Vancouver’s famous Polar Bear Club, still extant, the members of which dash into the frigid waters of English Bay every New Year’s Day. The first event drew five hardy souls. Today, more than eight decades later, thousands congregate to watch the braver among them leap into the chilly bay.

Peter Pantages was Founder and President of the Polar Bear Club for over 50 years and was succeeded by his son, Basil, after his death in 1971. Basil, his brother Tony’s children Tony Jr., John and Lisa continue as regular dippers in the event today. Unfortunately, Tony, Sr. a great booster of the Swim, passed away a few years ago. Lisa has now succeeded Basil as club President. In memory of Peter, an annual swim of 100 yards was established in 1972. A memorial trophy and keeper trophies are presented to the first three swimmers to reach the marker buoy.

Tremendous publicity for Vancouver has been received through the media of television and radio. Footage of the swim has been shown on television in England, Australia and across Canada. In 2002, CNN came up from their Seattle bureau to film and participate in the event. Their TV clips were seen worldwide spawning e-mails from as far away as Russia. A live radio report was done to 2 million listeners in Japan in 1999 and to New York State in 2002. Enquiries have been received from Siberia (Russia), Korea, Japan, Australia, New York, Washington, Oregon, California, West Virginia, Alaska, Ohio, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland to name a few places. Swimmers from all around the world have participated: United States, Great Britain, Holland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Colombia, Switzerland, Japan, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark to name a few countries. In 1986, Vancouver made the Polar Bear Swim the first event of the Centennial year, with a special certificate designed and signed by the Mayor of Vancouver and the President of the Polar Bear Club.

One other item of interest concerning this event is that Ivy Granstrom, a well-honoured blind athlete and holder of many world records in her age group, known as Queen of the Polar Bears, participated once again on January 1, 2004. At 92 years of age, she was also the oldest person to be involved with the swim. That year she came to the water’s edge in her bathing suit but had three police women take the plunge in her honour. Afterwards, Ivy announced to the crowd her retirement. Ivy has told organizers that she hasn’t missed a swim dating back to when she first became a Polar Bear in 1928. She claims this was her 77th anniversary of the Swim – a fantastic feat.

Unfortunately, Ivy passed away on April 14, 2004.

At the 2005 Swim, Derek Laverty and Ivy were honoured. Derek was the Coordinator of Aquatics for the Park Board who organized the swim for 25 years until his retirement in 1994. Derek passed away in October, 2004. Ivy was also honoured by having six policewomen in their uniforms take the plunge at the start of the event.

*Vancouver Park Board*

Held at English Bay, Vancouver on January 1st – 2:30pm yearly

The year 2010 will mark the 90th year of the Polar Bear Swim!


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