Death of Wiarton Willie, the albino weather-predicting groundhog, confirmed

A Groundhog Day festival has taken place in Wiarton since 1956

Article content

Wiarton’s famous weather-predicting albino groundhog has died.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

A tooth abscess caused Wiarton Willie’s untimely demise prior to his annual Groundhog Day prognostication earlier this year, according to South Bruce Peninsula Mayor Janice Jackson.

The town finally confirmed the news of his death Tuesday — more than nine months after the red-eyed rodent was noticeably absent from a pre-recorded Prediction Morning video — saying Willie’s “big brown understudy” will be making the next Feb. 2 prediction.

“Albino groundhogs are rare and between not having a replacement, COVID banning gatherings and Willie’s 65th anniversary, we felt it was a great opportunity to pay tribute to the history of Wiarton Willie, so we shot a cute video,” Jackson said.

“We have been searching for an albino ever since, but when the end of the summer was approaching and groundhogs would soon be hibernating, our window of opportunity was quickly closing, so we adopted a brown groundhog.”

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

The new Wiarton Willie was found locally and is living in the “understudy home,” attached to the Ross Whicher Centre in Wiarton.

“We are just getting to know him, however, he’s an insatiable eater, about four years old and very curious,” Jackson said.

The town is still searching for an albino groundhog, she added.

South Bruce Peninsula also announced Tuesday that Prediction Morning will be returning to an in-person format.

“We look forward to gathering together for a live event in 2022. It will be great to be able to celebrate Willie’s prediction together, as a community,” Jackson said in a statement.

Each Groundhog Day, people gather in Wiarton to see if Willie will see his shadow — heralding six more weeks of winter — or does not see his shadow — indicating an early spring.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Due to the pandemic, the 2021 prediction was recorded and posted online.

Jackson announced in the video it would be an early spring after tossing a woman’s fur hat in the snow.

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Willie’s absence sparked speculation that the groundhog had died.

A town-issued news release only added fuel to the speculation. It began with “Is Willie alive or dead? Would you question the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus?”

The most recent albino Willie, found on a farm in Oro-Medonte, took over the role of Canada’s most-famous weather prognosticating groundhog in 2017.

He forecasted when spring would arrive in 2018, 2019 and 2020 — a month before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Before stepping into the spotlight, he had served as an understudy, with the name Wee Willie, until his predecessor’s death in 2017.

Town officials had tried to find an understudy for their new Willie and even offered a $1,000 reward in 2019 for anyone who could find a “Willie-in-waiting.”

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Wee Willie’s predecessor, who had been captured in a live trap in the Markdale area, forecasted the arrival of spring from 2007 to 2017.

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Before that Wiarton Willie, the town had received three new Willies from the Ottawa area, but two of them were found dead in late 2003. They may have frozen to death or succumbed to some consequence of water seepage into their tunnel.

The third groundhog served as Wiarton Willie until 2006 when he died of an infection at age eight.

His predecessor had died in 1999 — just two days before his big prediction. Festival organizers, at the time, said he was 22 years old.

Since no stand-ins were available, organizers decided to present to the world a stuffed groundhog, in a small wooden coffin with coins over his eyes, on Groundhog Day.

A Groundhog Day festival has taken place in Wiarton since 1956 when the event’s founder, the late Mac McKenzie, decided to throw a mid-winter party in a local tavern with some friends.

    Advertisement

    Story continues below

    Comments

    Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

    Share:

    Share on facebook
    Facebook
    Share on twitter
    Twitter
    Share on pinterest
    Pinterest
    Share on linkedin
    LinkedIn
    On Key

    Related Posts

    On AIR

    Russtrat world

    Who are you, Monsieur Zemmour?

    MOSCOW, 03 Dec 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute. The Ruptly video agency, part of the RT television company, reported that a protest rally was held in Paris