Waking Wiarton Willie

Everyone is wondering what Wiarton Willie, the albino groundhog, thinks 
about the weather. South...

Everyone is wondering what Wiarton Willie, the albino groundhog, thinks about the weather. South Bruce Peninsula (Jim Fox)

JIM FOX, Special to Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

It seems that winter has only just begun, but it's almost time to learn if it will meet an early demise or continue for a few more weeks.

Wiarton Willie, the resident albino groundhog, is about to awaken from his hibernation Feb. 2 to give us the scoop about this crazy weather.

"It's what all Canadians are waiting to hear -- whether there will be an early spring, or in the case of this year, six weeks of actual winter," said Donna Elliott of the Town of South Bruce Peninsula.

"Given our wacky weather, the pressure is really on the little guy," she added.

If the cuddly, pink-eyed Willie sees his shadow, that means winter continues; if he doesn't, that suggests an early spring.

Then the partying begins and continues through the weekend -- whatever the outcome of his mythical prognostication.

Since the first prediction 51 years ago by the numerous ancestors of today's Willie, the event now attracts as many as 10,000 people from around the world. Events happen Feb. 1-4 in the Bruce Peninsula town between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.

Come early for the pancake breakfast from 6 a.m. and witness the prediction festivities. They start at 7:30 a.m. with the announcement at 8:07 a.m. at the Propeller Club, 535 Edward St., in Wiarton.

Master of ceremonies Natasha Ramsahai, the CBC News meteor-ologist, will be joined by town crier Bruce Kruger, Willie and Mayor Gwen Gilbert.

Luba Goy of the Royal Canadian Air Farce will be there with Willie's "shadow cabinet," made up of area politicians and local officials.

It's a party atmosphere even at that time of day, with spectators wearing zany attire and Willie noses or even dressed up like human groundhogs.

Mac Mackenzie organized the first festival in nearby Oliphant as a wacky idea for a mid-winter bash for his out-of-town friends who only visit during the summer.

It has become one of the most popular events in Ontario and was recognized twice as the World's Greatest Event on Feb. 2.

The legend and the lore -- some skeptics say myth -- of Wiarton Willie dates from 1956 as a "mystic day where hogs in the northern hemisphere" arise to predict the coming of spring.

"Willie has consistently delivered accurate predictions on the remaining course of winter -- 90 per cent, in fact," townspeople say.

Last year, Willie forecast an early spring after seeing his shadow.

Events include a jamboree at the Hepworth Legion Feb. 1 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

On Feb. 2, Luba Goy will appear at the Peninsular Shores Performing Arts Centre and there's a euchre and games night at the Propeller Club. The Wiarton and District Arena has the Lions Club Monte Carlo night.

Events on Feb. 3 include a pancake brunch at St. John's United Church, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Willie parade on Main Street, 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., and the Groundhog Ball at Wiarton Arena from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.

There are horse-drawn sleigh rides at Wiarton Bluewater Park, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., motor-less car derby, South Wiarton Hill, 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., penny carnival, recreational hockey tournament, curling bonspiel, fine arts and crafts show and sale, Hawaiian luau, chili chowdown and fish fry.

Feb. 4 events include the Roadbreakers Road Hockey and an Old Tyme Jamboree.

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GROUNDHOG DAY

SOME TRIVIA

- The day's origins are somewhat mysterious, but it was celebrated by ancient Celts as it's midway between the winter solstice and spring equinox.

- Willie has 22 teeth, as do all woodchucks, groundhogs or whistle pigs, members of the marmot family of rodents.

- Groundhogs hibernate one to a burrow, with at least two doorways. They can lose half their body weight in hibernation. Their maximum size is 10 kilograms.

- They can swim, climb trees and run as fast as 15 kilometres an hour

- Farrah Fawcett, Tom Smothers, James Joyce, Graham Nash and Christie Brinkley were born on Groundhog Day.

IF YOU GO

For Wiarton Willie Festival information:

- Visit www.wiarton-willie.org

- Call toll free 1-877-844-9884

- E-mail tourism@southbrucepeninsula.com


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