Polarization spreads to Groundhog Day: Willie, Sam at loggerheads

Polarization spreads to Groundhog Day- Willie, Sam at loggerheads-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Nova Scotia’s celebrity groundhog, Shubenacadie Sam, shown above, is predicting a long, cold winter ahead, while Ontario’s Wiarton Willie claims an early spring is on the way. (Nova Scotia Government/The Canadian Press)

Canada’s two foremost weather-minded marmots are at loggerheads.

Nova Scotia’s celebrity groundhog, Shubenacadie Sam, is predicting a long, cold winter ahead, while Ontario’s Wiarton Willie claims an early spring is on the way.

Sam emerged briefly from her enclosure at a wildlife park north of Halifax this morning — Groundhog Day — and according to her handler, she saw her shadow.

As the door to her pint-sized barn opened, Sam poked her nose outside, sniffed a nearby carrot and promptly returned inside to avoid the brisk –12 C weather.

Spring in Willie’s step

Willie, meanwhile, was rolled out onto a stage in a Plexiglas box and, according to Wiarton Mayor Janice Jackson, proclaimed spring was nigh.

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

At the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park, head interpreter Tabitha Cox said six weeks of winter wasn’t necessarily bad news.

“That means six more weeks of possible snow days, kids,” Cox said. “More time to build snowmen. More time to go skiing. Long winter ahead for us.”

For the second year in a row, the event at the park was closed to spectators and was broadcast live on Facebook to comply with the province’s COVID-19 health protection orders.

Living on the East Coast, Shubenacadie Sam is typically the first groundhog in North America to issue a long-term forecast.

The return of Willie

Meanwhile, Ontario’s most famous groundhog, Wiarton Willie, offered his seasonal forecast at 8:07 a.m. ET in a mostly virtual ceremony.

Last year, Willie was nowhere to be seen in a video marking Groundhog Day. Local officials called an early spring after throwing a fur hat into the air — a move they said recalled the tradition’s first edition in Wiarton more than 60 years ago.

Months later, the town of South Bruce Peninsula, which includes Wiarton, publicly acknowledged that Willie had died from an infection caused by an abscessed tooth.

At the time, Jackson said the albino woodchuck had died “quite a while before the last Groundhog Day,” but she didn’t specify when.

Tony and Anne Disorbo-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Tony and Anne Disorbo, of Connecticut, check out Gobbler’s Knob the day before Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pa., on Tuesday. (Mary Pynes/The Patriot-News/The Associated Press)

Willie isn’t the only famous groundhog with identity issues.

A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia park — a 45-minute drive north of Halifax — confirmed Wednesday that Sam is a female groundhog that has held the position as chief prognosticator for a while.

“This is not new, although this may be the first year that this was highlighted,” the spokesperson said in a text before the online ceremony began about 30 minutes after sunrise. The park’s website, however, still refers to Sam as a male.

You sure as heckfire remember Phil

Meanwhile in the United States, Punxsutawney Phil agreed with Sam, heralding a long winter.

Unlike the Canadian event, a crowd was on hand to witness the event at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., though the American groundhog’s prediction was also live streamed.

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 on Feb. 2, that was a sure sign of an early spring.

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

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