January 1, 1920: Greek-Canadian, Peter Pantages, forms the first Polar Bear Club in Vancouver, Canada.
Peter Pantages immigrated from Greece to Vancouver, Canada, and ran the Peter Pan Café with his three brothers. Prior to running the Café, Peter worked for his uncle, Pericles (Alexander) Pantages, who owned Vancouver’s Pantages Theater, which, today, has theaters around the world including Hollywood Pantages Theater.
Peter was an avid swimmer who swam three times a day in English Bay. He wanted others to know that you could swim every day in Vancouver, including the winter months. On New Year’s Day, 1920, over some drinks with friends, he convinced them to take a plunge into the icy English Bay and the Polar Bear Club was formed. Today, the Vancouver Polar Bear Swim Club is one of the largest and oldest Polar Bear Clubs in the world, drawing over 2,500 participants in its annual frigid dunk in the water.
For Peter, he continued running the Peter Pan Café and also opened Peter Pan Hall, a meeting place and venue. He died in 1971, and in 1972 the Vancouver Polar Bear Club, in honor of Peter, added a 100-yard swim to its annual New Year’s Day plunge. On January 1, 2016, Peter’s granddaughter, Lisa, took the swim in the freezing water to continue and honor her grandfather’s legacy and also wearing his wool swimsuit.
Peter Pantages founded the Polar Bear Club and to this day, people all over Canada and United States and on New Year’s Day brave the cold waters to participate in a tradition nearing 100 years old, thanks to the man from Greece.