Wiarton Willie: How a White Groundhog Made a Town Famous


The Prediction Morning Ceremony on February 2, 2015 will start at 8:07am with Willie’s announcement. Mayor Janice Jackson will be joined by dignitaries, residents and visitors early in the morning to find out what Wiarton Willie has to say about the weather over the coming months.

How it All Started

Wiarton is the home of Canada’s most famous prognosticating groundhog, Wiarton Willie. Each February 2nd for some 56 years, dark and early, the towns’ folk and fans come out to hear Willie’s prediction.

“Will it be an early spring or six more weeks of winter?”

Wiarton WillieMany ask, “How did it all begin”? The answer is easy, Mac McKenzie, our most famous resident wanted to have a party for a hundred of his closest friends. He sent out a press release inviting them to Wiarton for Groundhog Day to break the winter doldrums and have a little fun. Well, somehow the media got a hold on the story and a lone reporter, Frank Teskey from the Toronto Star, came out to see what was going on. After making inquiries all over town, Mr. Teskey was directed to the local ‘establishment’ where, sure enough, Mac and his buds were raising an elbow or two. When Mac was asked “where is the groundhog?”, he threw a fur hat into the snow. The reporter took advantage of the photo op and the rest they say is history.

Then it seems that three wise groundhogs, Grundoon, Muldoon and Sand Dune broke hibernation to tell Mac of the birth of a white groundhog who would forever alter the world of weather prognostication. The white groundhog would be known for his uncanny ability to correctly predict the timing of spring and he would emerge each February 2 to announce his prediction to those who spoke Groundhogese.

These prognostications brought locals and visitors from near and far, soon turning in to an annual festival. As Willie’s fame grew, so did the Festival. It matured to become the largest winter festival in Bruce County.

groundhog1Willie’s position as the premier prognosticator brought more fame to the town and soon Town Fathers realized their icon needed a proper entourage and the “Shadow Cabinet” was created. The Mayor of the Land and of the Marmot, (the only person who can speak Groundhogese); Minister of Inter-Burrow Affairs, (to manage the political affairs); Minister of Hogwash and Hot Air, (to handle the media); Minister of Marmot Management, (to ensure the ‘home front’ is in good order); Minister of Business, Buttons and Bows, (to ensure we are well decorated); Minister of Surf, Sand and Fun, (to make sure there are lots of great activities to enjoy) and of course, Mother Nature to make it all go well.

So famous had Willie become that in 1995 a statue was erected. With stone donated from the Adair Quarry in Hope Bay and the sculpting donated by Dave Robinson, a beautiful white limestone statue called “Willie Emerging” was created. The statue is located in Bluewater Park in Wiarton and is used for many photo ops. Aside from visiting the real Willie, the statue is a ‘must see’ for most tourists visiting the Town of South Bruce Peninsula.

Now the Festival attracts thousands of visitors and draws national and even international media attention and coverage.

(Source: Wiarton Willie Website)

Punxsutawney Phil
Punxsutawney Phil

Other Groundhog Day stars

Other towns throughout North America are known to have winter-predicting groundhogs. The most famous is Punxsutawney Phil of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (which appeared in the movie Groundhog Day). There is also “Brandon Bob” of Brandon, Manitoba, “Staten Island Chuck” in New York, “Balzac Billy” in Alberta*, “General Beauregard Lee” in Lilburn, Georgia, “Shubenacadie Sam” in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, Two Rivers Tunnel in Cape Breton and “Gary the Groundhog” in Kleinburg, Ontario, among many others. In 2014, a new prognosticator entered the mix: Toronto’s “Dundas Donna.” (Wikipedia)

*Balzac Alberta has Balzac Billie to predict the weather but he is only “groundhog” who is just a man in a costume, unlike the other groundhogs.