It’s Groundhog Day eve and Wiarton Willie will spend the day waking up and getting a checkup.
“The day before prediction, he goes and has his annual checkup and gets weighed and has his teeth checked and the whole shebang,” Town of South Bruce Peninsula Mayor Janice Jackson said. “It’s a lead-up to quite an exciting day.”
Groundhog Day lands on a Saturday this year, which means the small town of Wiarton, Ont., is expected to grow by several hundred people attending the annual Wiarton Willie Festival.
Jackson says they’re pleased to see it will be cloudy and the temperatures will rise to -4 C on Saturday. All week the town has been practically closed down due to snow squalls and extreme cold warnings.
On Thursday, Bruce Peninsula and Grey County OPP warned “all roads and highways remain closed due to poor winter weather conditions.”
But Jackson says the weekend is looking good and suggests anyone making the trek to Wiarton should bundle up.
“It’s going to be perfect weather conditions for the festival,” Jackson said.
Fireworks, music and weather prediction
The current Willie is an albino groundhog. There have been a few different Willies since the festival began more than 60 years ago, including one that died in 2017 and one that died in 1999 which resulted in the town holding a funeral.
This year is the current Willie’s second season on the job of prediction. Last year, he saw his shadow and projected six more weeks of winter.
If Willie doesn’t see his shadow, it means an early spring.
Six more weeks of winter?
A Sauble Beach, Ont. resident who loves being on the sand, Jackson says she always prefers to hear an early spring prediction. Not everyone agrees.
“A lot of people in our town absolutely love the winter because we have the best snowmobile trails in Ontario and ski trails and we have an awful lot of winter fun and activities here,” she said.
“It’s really a split, 50/50. Half the people want more winter and other people are anxious for the spring to come.”
The festival gets underway at 7 a.m. with fireworks, which Jackson says is a sight to behold.
“We have unbelievably spectacular fireworks over Colpoy’s Bay,” she said, referring to an inlet on Georgian Bay.
“Most people don’t ever get the opportunity to see fireworks at 7 a.m. in the dead of winter on a crisp, clear morning,” she said. “It’s a completely different look. It’s absolutely spectacular … the fireworks just get suspended and it’s just so colourful.”
There’s also a free breakfast, music, dancers, sleigh rides in the park, plus events throughout the town throughout the day.
About an hour after the fireworks, Willie will take the stage for his big moment.
“At 8:07 a.m. sharp, Willie tells me what he predicts for the spring, or six more weeks,” Jackson said.