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Ontario's Wiarton Willie doesn't see shadow, meaning spring just around the corner


Wiarton, Ontario, Mayor John Close listens to groundhog Wiarton Willie's weather prediction in Wiarton on Saturday February 2, 2013. The groundhog prognosticator predicted an early end to winter. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Frank Gunn

WIARTON, Ont. - Canada's prognosticating rodents are split on whether the country is in for an early spring or six more weeks of winter.

Wiarton Willie, Canada's most celebrated of all its furry forecasters, is predicting an early spring, siding with Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil — generally regarded as the groundhog of record.

Manitoba's lesser known woodchuck, Winnipeg Willow, also failed to see her shadow when she emerged Saturday morning, meaning she believes spring is around the corner. That contrasted with Manitoba Merv — a gopher-like puppet at an interpretive centre north of Winnipeg — which predicted six more weeks of winter.

Alberta's Balzac Billy, which is really a person in a Richardson ground squirrel costume, predicted a quick end to winter — giving a thumbs up to a cheering crowd when he couldn't see his shadow in a Calgary garden centre parking lot.

But Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam and Quebec's Fred are calling for more cold weather.

Folklore has it that if a groundhog sees its shadow on Groundhog Day it'll flee back to its burrow, heralding six more weeks of winter, and if it doesn't, it means spring's just around the corner.

Hundreds bundled up early Saturday to watch Willie emerge, many slipping on woodchuck masks or toting figurines of the famous rodent.

Willie's prognostication is the marquee moment of a three-day festival in his honour.

Kristin Otten, who was crowned the festival's queen, said she was a bit disappointed with the groundhog's call.

"I'm kind of sad about that because I really love the snow. But we'll see what happens," she said.

Others suggested the forecast isn't as important as the celebration itself.

"We only get to do this once a year," said Jerzy Bohatkiewicz, who has gone to the annual event for the last eight years.

"There's a reason for us to be here, to get out of bed at five in the morning, so we can find each other amongst this crowd here, find a little corner where we can all laugh and cheer and have fun —no matter what."

Shubenacadie Sam was the first out of his burrow to make his prediction to a worldwide audience via webcam.

Fred was next with his forecast in Val d'Espoir, a community in the Gaspesie region.

Willie weighed in just after 8 a.m. Eastern time, followed by Willow roughly an hour later.


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