Groundhogs to make predictions virtually as pandemic cancels in-person festivities


The pandemic is forcing the country’s famous furry forecasters to take their festivities online.

Groundhog Day predictions from Ontario’s Wiarton Willie and Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam will be broadcast widely next week, but no crowds will gather as the critters emerge to carry on a long-running tradition.

Folklore has it that if a groundhog sees its shadow on Feb. 2, it will retreat into its burrow, heralding six more weeks of cold weather. No shadow is said to foretell spring-like temperatures are on the way.

In Wiarton, Ont., the community’s famous albino groundhog, Wiarton Willie, will emerge to make a prediction on Tuesday, but there won’t be an in-person audience to cheer him on.

“Life, as we know it, has changed, and Willie’s no exception,” said Janice Jackson, mayor of South Bruce Peninsula, where Wiarton is located.

“We pivoted like every other business and event, and so we’re doing a virtual prediction this year.”

Over the years, Wiarton Willie has drawn large crowds who gather before a stage for music and entertainment that culminates in the groundhog’s prediction.

“It’s one of the biggest celebrations that we have here in Wiarton and South Bruce Peninsula, and it’s a real point of pride for our town,” Jackson said.

“Of course, with all of the restrictions, we had to cancel, which is so unfortunate because it’s our 65th anniversary of the festival.”

Jackson said the cancellation of in-person events due to the pandemic have dealt a financial blow to hotels, restaurants and other businesses in the community that typically benefit from visitors who arrive to watch Willie’s predictions.

“However, everybody across the country and the planet is suffering and so we’re no exception,” she said.

Out east, Shubenacadie Sam, Nova Scotia’s celebrity groundhog will also be making his prediction virtually this year.

“I’ll miss seeing my fans but safety first,” reads a tweet from the groundhog’s official account.

Organizers said they will not be hosting a public event at Sam’s home at Shubenacadie Wildlife Park but will be livestreaming his prediction on the park’s Facebook page.

“With celebrations moving online, everyone can take part in Shubenacadie Sam’s annual prediction and other Groundhog Day festivities,” said Steven Stewart, an organizer of the event.

In Quebec, groundhog Fred La Marmotte will also be delivering his forecast online.

The Groundhog Day ritual may have something to do with Feb. 2 landing midway between winter solstice and spring equinox, but no one knows for sure.

In medieval Europe, farmers believed that if hedgehogs emerged from their burrows to catch insects, that was a sure sign of an early spring.

However, when Europeans settled in eastern North America, the groundhog was substituted for the hedgehog.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press