Hot saunas, cold plunges on the agenda at Vancouver city council

The Good Sauna operated in the parking lot of Container Brewing in East Vancouver until April of this year. (Karin Larsen/CBC - image credit)

UPDATE — June 26, 5 p.m. PT: At its June 26 meeting, Vancouver city council directed staff to prepare amendments to zoning bylaws that would allow outdoor cold plunges and sauna businesses to operate in the city.


The owners of outdoor sauna-cold plunge businesses that have been operating in a bylaw grey area will be in front of Vancouver city council Wednesday morning speaking in support of a motion that, if passed, will allow their businesses to stay open.

The owner of The Good Sauna, which normally operates in the parking lot of Container Brewing in East Vancouver, says cold plunging promotes community and wellness and deserves to be greenlit by the city.

"We're in an industrial zone, and we're trying to petition the city to allow us to utilize underused spaces within the city," said Oll Farrell, gesturing to the empty parking spaces where his sauna-on-wheels used to sit.

"We're currently on a hiatus for the summer whilst we were working through the issues."

The motion before council was submitted by Coun. Lisa Dominato. It asks that staff be directed to find ways "to allow for the operation of outdoor cold plunges and saunas in appropriate locations within the city, including, for example, underutilized commercial and industrial spaces while ensuring they meet all necessary health, safety and environmental standards."

It further asks staff to find ways to allow the existing sauna and cold plunge businesses, like Farrell's, to continue to operate in the interim and that Vancouver Coastal Health be requested to develop a regulatory framework " to protect the health and safety of users."

Farrell said that while he was never told to shut down, he chose to shutter The Good Sauna in April after discussions with city officials to be on the safe side.

Farrell said the business attracted an average of 600 customers a month, up to 1,000 during the best month. He said the cost for a drop-in was $45 for a two-hour session, although the price was often much less given discounts.

Its popularity was also good for Container Brewing's food and beverage sales, he said, helping the craft beer maker through the typically slow winter season.

Cold plunging has become trendy in recent years, bolstered by claims about supposed health benefits — from reducing inflammation and boosting immunity to alleviating depression and anxiety.

"The sauna-cold plunge is a new phenomenon within North America. It's been going on in Europe for hundreds of years," said Farrell.

"Ultimately, we're aiming to create a safe, enjoyable community experience for people. And the city wants the same thing."

According to Dominato's motion, "[t]here is a growing interest and demand for outdoor cold plunges and saunas among the residents of Vancouver."