A decline in volunteers and an aging membership almost put the annual White Rock Polar Bear Swim on ice this year.
But a last-minute push and support from city staffers means hundreds of brave souls can once again dip into the frigid waters of Semiahmoo Bay to mark the start of 2014.
For more than 40 years, the Peace Arch Lions have hosted the popular event, but following the death of event chair Don Miller last year and a slow decline in membership, it has become nearly impossible for the 14 or so remaining members to put on.
Longtime Lion Bud Scott noted that of those 14 members, at least four are over the age of 90.
“It’s difficult for us, we just don’t have enough young people to haul stuff around,” he said.
Scott – past president of the club – added that at the start of the month, the club had decided to cancel the event before the city intervened and offered assistance.
However, the 82-year-old said it is most likely the last year the club will host the Polar Bear Swim.
“We’d like to carry it on, and if we can get 10 more members we would do it forever, but it’s really hard to find people to sign up and volunteer,” he said.
Mayor Wayne Baldwin told Peace Arch News last week that the city is hoping there will be another community group that will be able to take over.
“Our first choice would be to see if there was another group willing to take it on. I don’t think it’s a huge thing, it’s just that if it’s not necessary we shouldn’t be using taxpayers’ dollars for it,” he said.
Both Scott and Baldwin noted the root of the problem is that younger people are not signing up for service clubs with the same frequency as they have in the past.
“I think their problem is much like other service clubs – people just aren’t joining service clubs like they used to, so subsequently their membership is dwindling,” Baldwin said. “It’s tough to recruit people for that. It’s just not something that younger people are interested in.”
The Polar Bear Swim is schedule for Jan. 1 at White Rock beach. Registration begins at 10:30 a.m. with the swim kicking off at noon. A Polar Bear Paddle will take place at 11:30 a.m.
To register online for the paddle, visit www.raceonline.ca