Along the South Bruce, on the Blue Water, there is an annual tradition. A festival that wakes up a groundhog to look at its own shadow, depending on what he sees, we will know if winter is going to be long or short. Here’s Willie! the local hero. This year marks 60th Diamond Anniversary of the Wiarton Willie Festival. Prediction morning is Feb. 2nd, 2016.
Only in Canada, you say. One would think that it was something in the Canadian psyche, the frost bite became too much, the brain freeze happened and someone said, “Let’s have a groundhog day! Well no, that is not strictly true. There is Punxstawney Pete, the American critter, who sometimes tries to upstage Willie.
In fact, the tradition started in Medieval Europe, as a Christian festival called Candlemas (Candles) Day. This festival celebrated the coming of brighter days, when farmers would be able to return to their fields.
Wiarton held its inaugural festival back in 1956, and things have been hopping ever since. At the festival, in addition to Willie, you are treated to his ‘Shadow Cabinet’ and his mascot. A big, white, furry line backer, always looking for a hug. It had better be good news, as I don’t think people will be hugging a bad news groundhog.
Some years ago, there was a little hitch. When Willie’s keepers went to check on a sick Willie, they realised that he was had expired. This, was a little awkward, as prediction time was looming and they had to find a replacement. Luckily, a relative was found to replace him. Willie being an albino, needed a replacement with the same genetic trait. Since that time there have been successive Wee Willies.
Things have gone rather well for Wee Willie since then, and a ‘Free Willie’ campaign will not be necessary. There is a lovely statue of Willie that is set against the backdrop of the blue waters of the Georgian Bay. In addition, a memorial plaque acknowledges the contributions of Willie to the town’s popularity and tourism. Wiarton is an idyllic place to visit both in the winter and summer.