Toronto Star

Death notice better late than never

Famed Wiarton Willie died a year ago, before Groundhog Day, mayor reveals

- SIMRAN SINGH STAFF REPORTER IVY MAK

Ontario’s very own albino prognostic­ator has died, according to South Bruce Peninsula Mayor Janice Jackson. But it wasn’t a recent death.

Willie actually died before the last Groundhog Day ceremony, a spokespers­on for the town confirmed. The groundhog was a no-show at a virtual ceremony held last year. Organizers of the event pre-recorded Willie’s prediction.

Many assumed that the virtual Groundhog Day prediction­s from Ontario’s Wiarton Willie and Nova Scotia’s Shubenacad­ie Sam were a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it also sparked rumours about Willie’s health.

Mayor Jackson made the announceme­nt Tuesday that Canada’s high-profile groundhog Wiarton Willie had died from a tooth abscess.

“Our albino prognostic­ator sadly passed away leaving his big brown understudy in charge of making the 2022 prediction,” Jackson said in the statement.

“Life, as we know it, has changed, and Willie’s no exception,” the Wiarton mayor told the Star back in January. “We pivoted like every other business and event, and so we’re doing a virtual prediction this year.”

A statement from the town says the video released on the previous Groundhog Day was intended as a tribute to Wiarton Willie.

“Albino groundhogs are rare and between not having a replacemen­t, COVID restrictio­ns prohibitin­g gatherings at that time, and Willie's 65th Anniversar­y, we felt it was a great opportunit­y to pay tribute to the history of Wiarton Willie, so last year we shot a cute video,” said Danielle Edwards, a spokespers­on for the town of South Bruce Peninsula.

“We have been searching for an albino ever since but when the end of the summer was approachin­g and groundhogs hibernatin­g, our window of opportunit­y was quickly closing so we adopted a brown groundhog,” Edwards said.

A funeral was held in September 2017 when then-Willie died. It is not known how many Willies there have been since the tradition began.

Many on social media have been sharing their thoughts on the loss of Willie.

Every year on Feb. 2, people gather in Wiarton to find out if Willie will see his shadow and predict six more weeks of winter or an early spring. The town in South Bruce Peninsula has been celebratin­g the Wiarton Willie Festival for more than 64 years.

“We look forward to gathering together for a “live” event in 2022. It will be great to be able to celebrate Willie’s prediction together, as a community,” Jackson said.

In addition to the prediction on Feb. 2, the town says next year’s 2022 festival events will be held on Feb. 5.

The new Willie is currently in the understudy home attached to the Ross Whicher Centre in Wiarton, Edwards told the Star.

Willie is reportedly 4-yearsold, very curious and an insatiable eater.

 ?? HANNAH YOON THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO ?? Wiarton Mayor Janice Jackson interacts with Wiarton Willie at Groundhog Day festivitie­s in 2018.
HANNAH YOON THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO Wiarton Mayor Janice Jackson interacts with Wiarton Willie at Groundhog Day festivitie­s in 2018.

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