12/31/2012 05:36 EST

Polar Bear Plunges Across The Continent

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People run out of the Chesapeake Bay at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis, Maryland during the 16th Annual Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge January 28, 2012. The MSP Polar Bear Plunge is a charity function benefiting the Maryland State Special Olympics. AFP/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

What better way to plunge into the new year than with an icy dip for charity?

More than 700 Canadians of all ages will kick off the new year by running into the cold water of Lake Ontario at the Courage Polar Bear Dip to raise money in this annual tradition.

But this year, the dip features more than just colourful costumes and live music — it also marks Canada's first million dollar dip for charity. In the 17 years since Courage Polar Bear Dip first partnered with World Vision, it will have raised more than $1 million.

“Going back all those years, first of all, we never realized this would become an annual tradition. As it became a tradition, it was just some friends and family who got together. But, once we moved it somewhere public and got charities involved, even at that point, I never dreamed we’d be here at this point looking at a $1 million mark and what affect that $1 million does,” co-founder Trent Courage told The Oakville Beaver.

One of the oldest and most established Polar Bear Dips takes place on Canada's west coast at Vancouver's English Bay. The Vancouver Polar Bear Swim Club has been around since 1920, when there were only 10 swimmers. Since then, its membership has grown to hold a new record of 2,246 official entries set in 2011. Now in its 93rd year, it raises food and cash for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.

And it's not just Canadians who are feeling cool enough to ring in the new year with a swim.

The Coney Island Polar Bear Club in New York will assemble at the boardwalk and swim in the Atlantic Ocean to help raise funds for Camp Sunshine, an organization that helps kids battling life-threatening diseases. This year, participants are also encouraged to donate to assist the rebuilding of the Coney Island Community after Hurricane Sandy.

Not too far away, citizens of Pennsylvania will usher in the new year with an icy dip on New Year's Day for various causes — in Harrisburg, they'll be helping the Humane Society, while in Lebanon Country, they're raising money for Developmental & Disability Services of Lebanon Valley Foundation, Inc., a local charity that provides training and education services to children and adults with disabilities.

Nothing says a fresh start to the New Year like a cleansing dip into the frigid waters of Boston Harbor. Every year, the money here goes to South Boston Sports Hall of Fame Scholarship Fund, a charity that helps residents of South Boston who are pursuing, but can't afford secondary education.

Across the continent, the icy waters are a source of warmth and caring for people in need.

Polar Bear Club Pics