01/01/2012 01:02 EST | Updated 03/02/2012 05:12 EST

Annual Halifax polar bear dip raises $5000 for Feed Nova Scotia

Rather than pledge to shed unwanted pounds or make more money, Al Peterson opted to do something more realistic, starting 2012 with a dip in 7 C ocean water.

For his 34th year in a row, the 58-year-old was down at Vancouver's English Bay with his family for one of the oldest polar bear swims in the country.

"Rather than a New Year's resolution, which we don't keep anyway, we just wash off the old and start with the new," Peterson said, standing on wet sand among hordes of participants.

"And wash off that nasty hangover," joked his 23-year-old son Jason, who took his first dip at the turn of the millennium.

The father and son team joined more than 2,100 people for the 92nd annual tradition on Sunday that has spawned sister events across the country, many raising money for charity or in Vancouver, food for the food bank.

Thousands more camera-clicking spectators gathered on the balmy 5 C day under a bright sun to watch the spectacle.

When the lifeguard's whistle blew, no one appeared to have cold feet.

Revellers in themed costumes ranging from superheros to reindeer and mermaids splashed into the sea, frolicking in the frigid waves.

"After you lose the feeling in your limbs, it's quite nice," said Tarrin McDonough, 40.

She and her sister Sorrel donned a giant paper mache Jaws costume, their heads peaking out from behind a sharp set of Styrofoam teeth.

Crashing into the cold water on the first day of a new year is a bonding experience, they said. But they don't expect it to be the peak of their 2012.

"No, this is just getting started. We like to start with a bang," Sorrel McDonough said.

It was an unseasonal 4 C in Toronto when the dippers in swim suits — some sporting Viking-style headgear with horns — took the plunge at Sunnyside Beach at noon.

Some had participated several times since the first dip in 2006, but others were first-timers attracted by the chance to raise money for Habitat For Humanity.

Joe McCallion was one of the first timers, who was there at the urging of his daughter.

“It's off the bucket list," laughed a sopping wet McCallion. "I conquered it. Probably be back next year, too.”

For Jennifer Noddle, her first dip was a New Year's Eve decision.

“I saw a preview of it last night (Saturday) and a couple of us went out to the pub last night and just decided we would do it," Noddle said. "It was for a good cause and a good way to ring in the new year.”

Organizers were hoping to raise $40,000 for Habitat For Humanity.

Laura McMahon said she was back for a third year to raise money for Habitat.

“It wakes you up after New Year’s Eve," she said. "It’s a lot of fun. You do it with family, with friends, you see some people year after year it’s exciting.”

Another 150 people braved brisk winds and frigid water temperatures to plunge into the Atlantic Ocean near Halifax as part of their annual dip.

People young and old donned bikinis and swimming trunks for a brief-but-bitter wade into the icy waters in Herring Cove.

Rob MacLellan, organizer of the event and a 14-year participant, says about $5,000 was raised for local food bank Feed Nova Scotia.

Firefighters, police and emergency personnel were on hand to oversee the action and sent 20 people at a time to jump off the dock.

MacLellan, 54, compared the experience to being stabbed with needles thousands times. He said the weather was ideal, with the temperature hovering at about 1 C and the sun peeking through the clouds.

In Ottawa, more than 300 people raised $45,000 as part of the Sears Great Canadian Chill, with proceeds funding Canadian children's pediatric oncology centres.