Groundhog Day: Fred is dead in Quebec, Willie and Sam at odds over spring’s arrival


Canada’s famous groundhogs were split over spring’s arrival on Thursday, but in what will likely be heralded as a bleak prognostication, it was announced that a furry forecaster in Quebec had died before he could make his Groundhog Day prediction.

Fred la Marmotte is dead, organizers in Val D’Espoir, Que., told the crowd that had gathered in anticipation of the rodent’s annual prediction.

The announcement came after most of the event, including a dance break with a large Fred mascot, had taken place without indication of the animal’s death.

“In life, the only thing that is certain is that nothing is certain,” Roberto Blondin, an organizer, eventually told the crowd.

Blondin explained that Fred did not have vital signs when efforts were made to wake the animal from a winter slumber. He said the nine-year-old groundhog likely passed away in the late fall or early December.

In Fred’s place, organizers pulled a stuffed toy groundhog from Fred’s miniature wooded cabin, handed it to a young boy and then lifted the child in the air. The boy later convened with other kids on a stage before calling for six more weeks of winter.

According to folklore, if a groundhog sees its shadow on Groundhog Day, winter will drag on. However, if it doesn’t spot its shadow, spring-like weather will soon arrive.

Among the famous Canadian groundhogs who made it to sunrise, predictions were divided.

Ontario’s Wiarton Willie called for an early spring while Shubenacadie Sam, Nova Scotia’s most famous groundhog, apparently saw her shadow Thursday morning as she emerged from a snow-covered enclosure at a wildlife park north of Halifax.

That Willie was brought out on stage in a Plexiglas box on Thursday and South Bruce Peninsula Mayor Garry Michi put an ear to the box and declared the rodent had heralded spring’s arrival. Local legend has it the mayor is the only person who can speak “Groundhogese”.

Just after 8 a.m. local time in Shubenacadie, N.S., the door to Sam’s pint-sized barn was opened, and she slowly backed out into the cold, and then scurried over the snow towards a fence.

The annual tradition at the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park, broadcast live on Facebook, has been closed to visitors for the past two years because of COVID-19 gathering restrictions – and the in-person festivities were cancelled in 2020 because of a storm.

But a small crowd, including a group of children, braved the -20 C weather Thursday.

As expected, Sam was the first groundhog in North America to make a prediction – thanks to the Atlantic time zone.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Punxsutawney Phil agreed with Sam for a second straight year, predicting six more weeks of winter.

Folklorists say 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, that was a sure sign of an early spring.

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

In a playful, peer-reviewed study published by the American Meteorological Society, researchers at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., concluded that groundhogs are “beyond a shadow of a doubt” no better at predicting spring’s arrival than flipping a coin.