Join the Polar Bear Club

Unlike polar bears, humans do not have thick, insulated fur. That doesn’t stop us from plunging into freezing bodies of water, for hydrotherapy, or just plain fun. Polar bear dips take place around the country, typically on New Years Day to welcome in the year (and freeze a hangover in its tracks). There’s no disputing the fact that polar bear dips belongs on The Great Canadian Bucket List. The question is: where? Vancouver, for the thousands that gather on English Bay? The annual Freezin’ for a Reason in Yellowknife, which takes place after the spring thaw? Ottawa has one of those too, while the Toronto Polar Bear Club has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity with its January first dip. My choice combines the plunge with one of Canada’s natural wonders, and the location is just perfect.

A Montreal-based family originally built Nature Spa Chance Harbour as a passion project. Located about a half hour’s drive from Saint John in New Brunswick, it’s a world away from glitzy spa resorts with panpipes and sandalwood. A crackling fireplace heats up a comfortable lounge and bar area with huge windows overlooking a protected beach. With the world’s highest tides, the bay shoots water into an adjacent marsh, where a freshwater spring flows to meet it through a series of natural cascades. Outside sits a large fire-pit, beach chairs, kayaks, and hula-hoops, staring across the inlet into a forest. Inside is a corner with musical instruments, and one can only imagine the parties that take place during the summer. But we’re not here for fire-pits. A few metres away from the lounge lies the most beautiful wood-fired sauna I’ve seen anywhere (including Finland and Russia). Huge picture windows lets guests sweat while gazing at the Bay of Fundy, occasionally spotting moose and bears in the distance Sauna’s don’t typically have much of a view. This one does. After a good sweat to raise the body temperature, it’s time to join the Polar Bear Club. This involves a dip in the Bay of Fundy, the adjacent freshwater stream, or a bucket of ice-cold water over your head if you want to complete the trifecta. Because of the tides, the Bay doesn’t freeze over, and the water remains between 4C and 6C throughout the year. I once swam in the ice-cold waters of Lake Irkutsk in Siberia, and those waters were warmer than the Bay of Fundy. Hydrotherapy uses heat and cold to cleanse your system and kickstart your blood flow, much like the Cold Sauna in BC, without the lunacy. It’s invigorating for the body, and invigorating for the mind. Warmed to the core, I walk to the bay and calmly submerge myself, the cold waters providing a natural defibrillator for my soul. Back in the sauna, heat up, and this time I plunge in the freshwater stream, which is even colder than the Bay of Fundy. Finally, I tip a bucket of cold water on my head before warming up in the hot pool, sound tracked by gushing waters from a fast-flowing cascade. A new installation at the top of the hill includes massage rooms, a steam room, and a place for couples or friends to stay overnight. In winter, the spa will clear a path through the snow to the bay.

Nature Spa Chance Harbour, like New Brunswick in general, doesn’t beat its chest with bold claims to be the best of anything. It doesn’t have to. It’s unique, unpretentious, memorable, and something everyone should do. Entirely suitable therefore, as my choice for the Polar Bear plunge on The Great Canadian Bucket List.

Visit Nature Spa Chance Harbour for more info.

Great Canadian Bucket List