Oh, yes...much like the beloved groundhog Phil of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Wiarton Willie from Wiarton, Ontario comes complete with his own festival of wintry goodness as folks from all across Canada wait with bated breath to see just how long this winter will last. With Moose Jaw wind-chills at -49F (-45C) yesterday, I think all of us in this town are hoping for an earlier spring rather than a later one!
So, what of Wiarton Willie and just how did this groundhog come to be so popular? 55 years ago, one of Wiarton's most famous residents, Mac McKenzie (now 83 and still attending the festival!) decided to throw a party for a group of friends. The party ended up getting to be such a big deal that a local reporter showed up to cover the event. Now, Mac advertised the party as a Groundhog Day party to introduce some lightness and laughter into the dark of winter. When the reporter asked where the groundhog was, Mac tossed his furry toque into the snow, a picture was snapped, and, needless to say, a tradition was born and Groundhog Day in Wiarton has been in full swing since. As to where the albino groundhog tradition comes in:
"..it seems that three wise groundhogs, Grundoon, Muldoon and Sand Dune broke hibernation to tell Mac of the birth of a white groundhog who would forever alter the world of weather prognostication. The white groundhog would be known for his uncanny ability to correctly predict the timing of spring and he would emerge each February 2nd to announce his prediction to those who spoke Groundhogese."
But wait! What's that I hear? Why, it's Shubenacadie Sam from Nova Scotia -- yet another groundhog that is set to predict an early or late spring. Sam makes his predictions from the Shubenacadie Provincial Wildlife Park on Canada's east coast. His weather prediction calling days began in 1987 and, due to his location, Sam makes the first prediction of the year for North America in the early morning hours of February 2.
I am shocked (literally!) to find out that there are more players in the groundhog weather prediction field, including:
Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania
Wiarton Willie in Ontario
Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia
Balzac Billy in Alberta
Buckeye Chuck in Ohio
Brandon Bob in Manitoba
General Beauregard Lee in Georgia
Gary the Groundhog in Ontario (from Kleinburg)
Two Rivers Tunnel in Nova Scotia (from Cape Breton)
and, last but not least, Staten Island Chuck in New York
So, what were the predictions this year? Well, it was a triple hit from the most famous of the groundhog forecasters! Wiarton Willie predicted an early spring in the middle of a huge winter storm. Schubenacadie Sam also predicted an early spring, despite the pounding the east coast of Canada is taking at this time from a winter-loving Mother Nature. Punxsutawney Phil called an early spring as well, bringing cries of joy from a snow-buried Chicago and storm-lashed New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts.
So, here's to dreams of warm spring days, more hours of sunshine, and a palette of colours different from the white, gray, and black we have become accustomed to here in Moose Jaw!