The original Wiarton
Willie, an albino groundhog said to be 22 years old, died during hibernation
during the winter of 1998-99. The good burghers of Wiarton discovered this to
their horror just before Groundhog Day 1999.
Willie's death made
headlines around the world.
On Groundhog Day, they
put Wiarton Willie face-up in a small pine casket, bright pennies over his eyes,
paws clutching a raw carrot. But it was a fake! Turns out the real Wiarton
Willie was so disgustingly decomposed he couldn't be put on display, so they
found a stuffed facsimile and laid it in the casket.
are woodchucks, members of the squirrel family, marmots, sometimes called
"pig-whistles." They are not the sharpest knives in the drawer. When
nervous, they emit a high-pitched squeal, which might as well be an embossed
dinner invitation to predators who follow the squeal until they find and eat the
So how did they gain a
reputation for predicting weather? Fact is, they aren't very good at it. The
people of Wiarton insist their Willie was accurate 90 per cent of the time, but
what do you expect them to say when the Groundhog Festival attracts 20,000
free-spending tourists to the town every February? Scientific studies show
groundhogs are accurate only 37 per cent of the time, which means you'd do
better flipping one of the pennies that covered ol' Wiarton Willie's eyes.
Loyalists insist that
Wiarton Willie possessed an uncanny ability to predict because he was born
exactly on the 45th parallel, midway between the Equator and the North Pole.
Wiarton is a pretty town of 2,300 on the Bruce Peninsula between Lake Huron and
legend of Willie Wiarton began in 1956, with many groundhogs taking their star
turn as Willie.
have their favourite winter-predicting groundhogs, the second most famous –
after Wiarton Willie – being Punxsutawney Phil of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
There is a Brandon Bob in Manitoba, a Staten Island Chuck in New York, a Balzac
Billy in Alberta, and a Gary the Groundhog in Kleinburg, Ontario.
successor is Wee Willie, another albino groundhog. Actually there are two Wee
Willies – Wee Willie and Wee Willie-2 – just to be safe. An Ottawa man
captured them after Wiarton Willie died. He sent them to Wiarton for the big
And a big show it is,
with hockey tournaments, curling bonspiels, dances, parades, pancake breakfasts,
a Monte Carlo Night, a dart tournament, snooker tournament, horse-drawn sleigh
rides, a mammoth fish fry and a circus.