Canada's most famous groundhog says spring is coming soon

Wiarton Willie sign
© K Martinko -- An enthusiastic Willie fan shows support on chilly Groundhog Day.

TreeHugger met Wiarton Willie this morning, the world's only albino weather prognosticating groundhog.

Wiarton Willie has spoken! Canada’s most famous groundhog did not see his shadow this morning, which means an early spring is in store. The world awaited Willie’s prediction eagerly to see which of his fellow groundhog prognosticators he would agree with. Earlier today, Punxsutawney Phil of Pennsylvania predicted a long winter, while Shubenacadie Sam of Nova Scotia called for early spring. Now the vote is two to one, so warmer weather could be on its way.

Willie is unusual because he is the world’s only albino weather prognosticating groundhog. He lives in the small town of Wiarton, Ontario, at the bottom of the Bruce Peninsula, not too far from where I live. So I packed up my kids in the cold darkness and made the trek to Wiarton, curious about the famous “Wiarton Willie Festival” that’s been called one of the most popular events in Ontario.

Fireworks were exploding over the town as I pulled in at 6:55 a.m., the morning still pitch black and a biting wind blowing in off Georgian Bay. I’ve never started a day off with fireworks before, and I must say it’s an oddly exhilarating experience. A large crowd was gathered outside the town’s arena where a live band on stage distracted the crowd from the stinging snow. (How the fiddle player managed to move her fingers, I do not know.) A free pancake breakfast was served indoors to anyone willing to brave the lineup.

Wiarton Willie sign© K Martinko -- Unfortunately this woman's hopes were dashed by Willie's prediction of early spring.

groundhog noses© K Martinko -- I stand with some Wiarton locals, sporting the handmade fleece groundhog "nose warmers" that were handed out to the crowd.

Just after 8 o’clock, I spotted Willie in the crowd. He was kept in a clear plastic box on a bed of hay and seemed quite curious about the excitement. He looked around wide-eyed, his nose twitching. A local explained to me that this Willie is much rowdier than past ones, which is why he must be kept in the box. The crowd started to chant, “We want Willie! We want Willie!”

Wiarton Willie in his box© K Martinko -- Apparently this Willie is rowdier than his predecessors, hence the box.

Mayor Janice Jackson stepped forward to converse quietly with Willie in Groundhogese. According to Willie’s humorous "autobiography," titled Carved in Stone: The Legend of Willie, having a working knowledge of Groundhogese is “the first prerequisite for becoming mayor” of Wiarton and surrounding area.

Willie© K Martinko -- Willie, on his way to the stage

Jackson consulted with her ‘shadow cabinet’, which includes the Minister of Inter-Burrow Affairs (to manage the political affairs); Minister of Hogwash and Hot Air (to handle the media); Minister of Marmot Management (to ensure the 'home front' is in good order); Director of Business, Buttons and Bows (to ensure we are well decorated); Director of Surf, Sand and Fun (to make sure there are lots of great activities to enjoy); and Mother Nature. The interpretation from the Groundhogese was loud and clear: spring is on its way.

Some cheering ensued, although the informal polls conducted prior to the prognostication by master of ceremonies Kevin Forget of Ontario Travel indicated that most of the audience was hoping for a longer winter. After having spent much of January snowless, we Ontarians are not yet ready for spring.

Before you start complaining, however, Willie urges you in his autobiography to think about the calendar:

“What the world of Humans has forgotten is that the vernal Equinox is March 21st. This is a Natural Law and cannot be manipulated by Humankind or the Natural world for that matter. Spring is thus contravened from beginning until then. Either the World of Humans cannot do math or they cannot do myth, but whichever one it is they haven’t quite got the joke.”

Tags: Animals | Canada | Holidays | Ontario | Weather

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