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Punxsutawney Phil Ain’t Got Shit on Wiarton Willie

Published February 8, 2022

Although their holiday started several decades after ours did, Canada celebrates Groundhog Day too, with the same annual tradition of dragging a couple of reluctant rodents out in front of a crowd of cold and…whelmed observers. This year, Canada’s most famous marmots disagreed in their weather predictions: Nova Scotia’s Subenacadie Sam and Quebec’s Fred la Marmotte both predicted six more weeks of winter, while Ontario’s Wiarton Willie suggested an early spring.

But the bigger story is that there was an actual Wiarton Willie this year. Last year, the town of Wiarton live-streamed their Groundhog Day ceremony and there was NO GROUNDHOG to be seen. Residents began to speculate that, you know, maybe Willie had died — he was reportedly in his early 20s — and the town put out a weird-ass statement claiming that Groundhog Day wasn’t really about the groundhog at all. 

“This event is not about Willie, and truthfully it never has been,” South Bruce Peninsula officials wrote. “This is about a Town full of community spirit where people come together to help and support one another, share in successes, celebrate our history and enjoy each other’s company or at least that was how it all started 65 years ago.” (That is SO CLOSE to saying that the real Groundhog Day is the friends we made along the way.) 

In November, South Bruce Peninsula Mayor Janice Jackson finally admitted that Willie had died of a tooth abscess sometime between Groundhog Days. Because Wiarton Willie was a rare albino groundhog, it seems like it wasn’t possible to pull a Dave and bring in a near-identical look-alike to play the role of Willie in time. 

“Wiarton Willie has put us on the international map and we’re very, very protective of the Wiarton Willie brand,” Jackson said, according to CBC News. “And we were faced with a conundrum, clearly one that took us by surprise, and we had to plot a path forward the best way that we could to protect our town.” 

May his memory be a blessing.

This isn’t the first time that the town has botched a groundhog death (and if you think that’s a bonkers sentence to read, then imagine writing it.) In 1999, then-Wiarton Willie died several days before Groundhog Day, so they presented the dead animal in a tiny casket and the organizers said that he’d predicted an early spring in his will. That went over just about as well as you’d expect; the CBC said that “children bawled” after seeing a groundhog corpse in a wooden box like grandpa’s. 

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE: the groundhog in the custom-made coffin wasn’t even Willie at all, but an unnamed stand-in that had been stuffed several years earlier. “The smell [of Willie’s body] was something you wouldn’t have wanted to be near,” Willie’s then-caretaker Sam Brouwer said in 1999. “It would have been a closed-casket funeral.”

Well, that was fun! Wiarton Willie will be back next February. Or maybe he won’t! Who knows?!

Groundhog Day inspired our latest Video Rewind where we found a bunch of movies and pranked their protagonists by forcing them into a time loop. It’s fun!

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