OTD: Wiarton man invites public to Canada’s first Groundhog Day party

On today’s date in 1956, Wiarton, Ont.’s Mac Mackenzie published a press release inviting people to his town for what would become Canada’s first Groundhog Day party.

Although the tradition of using a groundhog to forecast the weather dates back to the 19th century, Mackenzie was only seeking an excuse to throw a party.

After a Toronto Star reporter arrived and asked about the groundhog’s whereabouts, Mackenzie threw his wife’s fur hat into the snow so the reporter could take a picture.

A 2015 story published by CBC News explains: “(The reporter) had to have a story. He couldn’t go back to Toronto without something. So we tossed a fur hat with a button on it into the snow. We said it was a groundhog, and the photo ran in the (Toronto) Star.”


Today’s Wiarton Willie Groundhog Day festival attracts major crowds to the town, which is located off Georgian Bay on the Bruce Peninsula.

In 1999, the festival became mired in a scandal as organizers discovered—only a few days before the big event—Willie had died during his winter hibernation. They put what they claimed to be Willie’s dead body, clutching a carrot, in a small casket with one-cent coins over his eyes.

The scandal erupted when it was discovered Willie’s body was so badly decomposed it could not be shown to the public; instead, organizers put a stuffed version in the casket.

For the next five years, a replacement, “Wee Willie,” fulfilled the role until he was replace by “Wee Willie 2.”


In 2016, the Royal Canadian Mint featured the woodchuck (Marmota monax) on a $20 Fine silver coin as part of its Baby Animals series.

Famous for its winter hibernation, the woodchuck (or groundhog) ventures out of its underground burrow during the warmer months to sun itself or find food; but when it’s not eating, the woodchuck is typically caring for its young.

Designed by Canadian artist Michelle Grant, the 2016-dated silver coin captures a tender moment between mother and offspring in a continuing celebration of family bonds among Canada’s iconic animal species. Selective colour showcases the young woodchuck alongside the colourful vegetation that’s catching its eye. To the left, an engraving depicts a protective mother keeping a watchful eye on her young from the opening of the burrow, which is surrounded by grass and dirt at the foot of a large boulder.

The coin has a weight of 31.39 grams and a 38-mm diameter.

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