Groundhog Day: Furry rodents will tell us if spring is around the corner in Ontario

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Published February 2, 2024 at 7:17 am

It’s Groundhog Day, again.

The beloved and occasionally controversial annual event that inspired the classic Bill Murray comedy film will see celebrity rodents make their spring predictions today.

In the prognostication method that favours folklore over science, a groundhog will emerge from its burrow and if it does not see its shadow, that means spring is just around the corner. If the furry animal sees its shadow and retreats, then we can expect six more weeks of winter.

High-profile furry forecasters include Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam, Quebec’s Fred la Marmotte and Ontario’s Wiarton Willie. They are set to wake from their winter slumber as the sun rises across the country and fulfil their duty.

The Quebec hamlet of Val-d’Espoir is looking to move on from the tragedy of last year’s Groundhog Day, when Fred la Marmotte was found dead hours before his scheduled daybreak appearance. Fred was hastily replaced with a child plucked from the event crowd, who held up a stuffed toy marmot and declared that spring would be delayed.

A new Fred will succeed the departed oracle this year.

Roberto Blondin, an organizer of the event and the mayor of Sainte-Thérèse-de-Gaspé, Que., said Fred Jr. is ready to follow in the footsteps of the late Fred, and Gros Fred before him.

“But it’s all relative, like they said in the time of kings: ‘The king is dead, long live the king,’ so we’re starting again with a new groundhog,” Blondin said in an interview this week.

In Ontario’s South Bruce Peninsula, those keeping the Wiarton Willie tradition alive have also been seeking a fresh start in the aftermath of controversy.

The groundhog was nowhere to be seen at the festivities held virtually in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. It took nine months for the town to acknowledge the albino rodent had died.

Willie’s handlers brought in an understudy the following year, but in a break from long-standing tradition, that animal was the usual brown colour. A white-haired replacement Willie was finally procured from Ohio for Groundhog Day in 2023.

It remains to be seen what Willie will look like today, but organizers say the rodent’s prediction will be ushered in with pre-dawn fireworks over the Wiarton Arena parking lot.

The most famous Groundhog Day event in North America is taking place in western Pennsylvania, where Punxsutawney Phil will announce whether he saw his own shadow.

Thousands are expected to attend Phil’s annual declaration that exploded in popularity after the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day,” in which a curmudgeonly TV weatherman is stuck in a time loop and forced to relive the day in Punxsutawney over and over.

Groundhog Day is part of a tradition rooted in European agricultural life, marking the midpoint between the shortest day of the year on the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The practice of watching an animal’s emergence from winter hibernation to forecast weather dates back to ancient times and also has roots in a similar German tradition involving badgers or bears.

-With files from Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal and The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2024.

Sonja Puzic, The Canadian Press

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