The last thing on anyone’s mind given the frigid temperatures experienced in Northwest Saskatchewan as of late is to take a dip in the lake. Unless, of course, it’s for a good cause.

Recently, staff at the Pine Ridge Bible Camp located between Canoe Lake and Beauval, took part in a polar bear swim at Cunnings Lake, not necessarily because they expected it to be fun, but rather in an effort to raise money for an important project underway at the camp itself.

“We’re a kids’ camp for communities around the Beauval area,” explained Marcie Klassen, kitchen coordinator at Pine Ridge Bible Camp. “We hold summer camps June, July and August, and recently we have been building a new dining hall. Our existing hall was built some time in the early 1970s and we’ve needed a new one for a long time.”

Ground was broken on the project about two years ago, but a shortage of money has prevented it from being completed. Furnaces still need to be installed, while other mechanical work also needs to be done. While recently brainstorming ways in which funds could be raised, one staff member jokingly suggested a polar bear plunge.

“It was a joke but we thought it was an interesting idea that might actually work,” Klassen continued. “Our director, Tabitha Wahlstrom, began to gather up team members who would be interested in taking part and, in the end, we had six participants and four or five benchmarks – people who would only take the plunge if a certain amount of money was raised.”

In the end, $30,859 was raised for the camp, and all those who were expected to take to the water, including Klassen, did.

“I keep thinking maybe it won’t be so bad, and then I go outside when it’s -20C and I am like, ‘what am I thinking?,’” Klassen told Northern Pride prior to the event itself. “Some people have been taking cold showers to prepare their bodies, but I haven’t been doing that. The only thing I’ve done is stopped drinking coffee because coffee dehydrates you and you need to stay very hydrated.”

Participants entered the water one at a time, and were then quickly escorted to a nearby shack – complete with wood stove – to change clothes and warm up. Some, meanwhile, returned to watch others jump into the water.

“My experience wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be,” Klassen said following the swim. “I thought it was going to be a lot colder. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was definitely cold and I didn’t want to stay in the water long, but the shock wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Altogether it was a very positive experience and I would probably do a polar plunge again.”

Klassen also commented on the importance of completing the new dining hall.

“Our dining hall is kind of our main gathering place… we have our temple in the basement and dining hall upstairs,” she said. “It is where a lot of the action at the camp happens, and when it’s completed we can also hopefully hold more winter retreats.”

Opened in 1971, Pine Ridge Bible Camp welcomes more than 200 children from across the Northwest each summer.

by Phil Ambroziak