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 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.

“(The reporter) had to have a story,” explains a 2015 story published by CBC News. “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 Star.”

MODERN GROUNDHOG DAY FESTIVAL

The annual Wiarton Willie Groundhog Day festival typically 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 replaced by “Wee Willie 2.”

In 2021, the 65th year of the tradition, organizers hosted what they called a “live(ish)” event, in which Wiarton Willie predicted an early spring this year. The Groundhog Day forecast was officially announced at 8:07 a.m. from Wiarton; however, this year’s event was entirely online with no live crowds or fireworks.

2016 BABY ANIMALS COIN

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

Famous for its winter hibernation, the groundhog – also known as a woodchuck – ventures out of its underground burrow during the warmer months to sun itself or find food. 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 a mother and her offspring. Selective colour showcases the young woodchuck alongside vegetation, and to the left, an engraving depicts a protective mother watching her young from the opening of a 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-millimetre diameter.

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