Canada's famous prognosticating rodents appeared to reach a consensus on Groundhog Day, as furry forecasters spanning three provinces predicted an early spring.
Ontario's Wiarton Willie, Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam and Quebec's Fred la Marmotte all reportedly did not see their shadows on Friday morning. According to centuries-old folklore, that's good news for Canadians tired of wintry weather.
The tradition holds that if a groundhog doesn't see its shadow on Groundhog Day, springlike weather will soon arrive. But if a shadow appears, winter's icy grip won't let go for quite some time.
The consensus on spring's early arrival extended to western Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil, whose annual declaration exploded in popularity after the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day".
As usual, Shubenacadie Sam was the first groundhog in North America to make a prediction. But Nova Scotia's famed meteorological marmot did not appear to be in any rush.
At 8 a.m. local time, the door to Sam's enclosure was opened by Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton, but Sam — or Samantha — did not come out.
"Come on, woodchuck!" shouted one youngster who was among a group of bundled-up onlookers at the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park north of Halifax.
About five minutes later, Sam took a few tentative steps outside, then immediately ducked into a thicket of evergreens and disappeared.
Folklorists say the Groundhog Day ritual may have something to do with Feb. 2 landing midway between winter solstice and spring equinox. In medieval Europe, farmers believed that if hedgehogs emerged from their burrows to catch insects, that was a sure sign of an early spring.
After a streak of untimely deaths and controversy, the festivities in Ontario and Quebec appeared to go off as planned.
The successor to Fred la Marmotte in Val d'Espoir, Que., emerged after daybreak into falling snow, and there was no shadow to be seen.
Last year, the late Fred was found dead shortly before the Groundhog Day festivities. He was hastily replaced with a child plucked from the event crowd, who held up a stuffed toy groundhog and declared that spring would be delayed.
"But it's all relative, like they said in the time of kings: 'The king is dead, long live the king,' so we're starting again with a new groundhog," said Roberto Blondin, an organizer of the event and the mayor of Sainte-Thérèse-de-Gaspé, Que.
Those keeping the Wiarton Willie tradition alive in Ontario's South Bruce Peninsula had also been seeking a fresh start in the aftermath of controversy.
The white-haired groundhog was wheeled out onto a stage around 8 a.m., resting on a bed of straw inside a see-through box. The mayor, who per local tradition is the only person who can speak "Groundhogese," put his ear to the box and then relayed Willie's prediction of an early spring to the crowd.
The groundhog was nowhere to be seen at the festivities held virtually in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. It took nine months for the town to acknowledge the albino rodent had died.
Willie's handlers brought in an understudy the following year, but in a break from long-standing tradition, that animal was the usual brown colour. A white-haired replacement Willie was finally procured from Ohio for Groundhog Day in 2023.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2024.