Polar Pan?


CVA 99-1783 – Miss E. Robinson and Pete Pantages, Royal Lifesaving Society members pose at snowy beach, 15 Dec 1927. Stuart Thomson photo.

Here are Royal Lifesaving Society members, Peter Pantages and Miss E. Robinson. (Sadly, we don’t know Miss Robinson’s first name; she looks like she was quite a character. Although Peter and Miss Robinson appear in the photo to be friendly, they didn’t marry. Peter married a girl three years later who was, like him, of Greek extraction, Miss Helen Antonio Sarantis).

Peter Pantages wasn’t associated directly with his uncle Alexander’s theatre empire in Vancouver or elsewhere. Pete’s claim to fame was the establishment of the Polar Bear Club in 1920, shortly after arriving here from Greece and for being the proprietor of Peter Pan Cafe (adjacent to the Hotel Martinique at 1180 Granville) and Peter Pan Hall — sometimes referred to as the Peter Pan Ballroom (at 1636 W. Broadway).


CVA 371-836 – The Polar Bear Club about to go for a swim on New Years Day. Jan 1 1939. Pete Pantages appears to be the left foreground in the photo.

I stumbled across a December 19, 1949 newspaper article recently (from the Lethbridge Herald, no less), which reported that:

Ten human polar bears took a ‘cool but refreshing’ dip in the chilly waters of English Bay Sunday. 

Peter Pantages, president of the Polar Bear Club, will complete a 20-year record of a ‘swim every day in the Pacific Ocean’, New Years’s Day.

The temperature was 30 degrees above [Fahrenheit] as Pantages and his ‘Bears’ splashed in the bay. Specatators, bundled in overcoats, watched from a snow-speckled beach.

It was a trial round for the annual New Year’s Day swim when 50 club members are expected for a dip in the icy bay.

Today, the Polar Bear Swim attracts in excess of 2500 folks every New Year’s Day. With references to it as a “tradition” and a “crazy baptismal”, the Polar Bear Swim today may be one of the most faithfully attended events in Vancouver. I doubt that Pete Pantages ever imagined himself the founder of a local religion!

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4 Responses to Polar Pan?

  1. lhhouben says:

    Aren’t they nutty? LOL!

    • mdm says:

      That’s for sure! I’ve just returned from a photo shoot in southern Alberta, so I’ve had a ‘fresh’ reminder of how cold winter can be….I don’t get why one would choose to be cold in Vancouver!

      • lhhouben says:

        No, me either! I still haven’t experienced the prairie cold. But I did experience the mosquitoes this past summer when we visited AB and SK!

  2. Sheila says:

    So THAT’S how the Polar Bear swim got started! Thanks, M., very interesting.

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