Why Ontario is Mourning the death of Wiarton Willie the Groundhog
So February 2nd is a big deal. Well at least it is in North America as by then we are all getting a little tired of winter. Quiet all you winter lovers who live on the slopes! You are definitely in the minority while the rest of us dread scraping ice from our windshields. February 2nd brings a ray of hope to us winter-dreaders as it is Groundhog Day, a folklore anniversary that brings the famous prognosticating rodent out for his yearly appearance to determine whether winter will end soon, or if we must endure it a little longer. Wiarton Ontario, up on the Bruce Peninsula, embraced the day in a Big Way. The furry prognosticator himself, Wiarton Willie lived within its city limits and embraced his home fans yearly with his annual cameo. And that is where our homage begins.
A Little About Wiarton
- Every Year on February 2nd, Groundhog Day, there is an annual festival bringing media from across the country to cover the infamous cameo of Wiarton Willie and whether he sees his shadow or not.
- The 890 km Bruce Trail runs through Wiarton and brings thousands of travellers yearly to hike and explore it
- Many cottagers flock to Wiarton to enjoy a summer on Georgian Bay upon the Peninsula
- There are roughly 3000 people who call Wiarton Ontario home
- The Wiarton Willie Inn is the official home of Wiarton Willie. He had his own little house on the property and some guests seen saw him lingering around during their visit.
- A statue was erected for Willie to acknowledge is contribution to the town, the weather conditions, and putting the town on the tourism map.
- Wiarton Willie was an albino groundhog (a rare species of his kind) who prognosticated the weather
Groundhog Day Folklore
Wiarton embraces Groundhog day with a festival scheduled to witness the weather prognostication of the year. Media come from across Ontario to get a glimpse of the predicting rodent and whether 6 more weeks of winter are in the near future. This event and hometown Willie surged Wiarton to the Ontario travel bucket list and placed Wiarton on the tourist radar.
- If it is cloudy when the groundhog comes out of his burrow, he will not see his shadow meaning there will be an early spring.
- If it is sunny when he emerges, he will be frightened back into his burrow and six weeks of winter will follow.
- Many flock to the groundhog’s burrow in the early morning on February 2nd to witness his emergence and prediction. Usually by noon it has made the news on whether the winter will be long or end early.
- The USA began celebrating Groundhog Day in 1887!
- Pennsylvania’s local paper began the folklore tradition with a column featuring the furry meterologist
- The holiday made such an impact that the 1993 movie with Bill Murray was created.
- Russia honours the rodent in their zoos
Just last week Wiarton reported the death of Willie at the age of 13. To many this wouldn’t have too much of an impact, but to the Wiarton community, it was a sad loss warranting tributes and ceremonies at the newly erected Willie monument. He was at a great age for a groundhog and did bring the town to travellers’ maps. Heck, I knew about Willie, but it wasn’t until this year that I made pilgrimage there to see my favourite groundhog in his home for myself. Now the town must move forward knowing he is in a better place with a successor hopefully assigned for the upcoming festival next year.
Visiting Willie and paying homage to his legacy was part of the Heavenly Centenary Sights Bucket List. Granddad certainly would have loved seeing this rodent’s home while on a road trip up to Tobermory. For more on this great initiative and where we will be heading this year in Ontario, check out our schedule and the details here. It was sad to read of Willie’s demise, but I hope the people of Wiarton find a new prognosticator soon who won’t see his shadow in 2018.
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