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The mayor of a small Ontario town defended his decision to keep the death of a famous weather-forecasting marmot a secret for about a year, saying he was protecting the “Wiarton Willie brand.”
Janice Jackson, mayor of the city of South Bruce Peninsula, said the albino rodent died “well before the last Groundhog Day,” but did not specify when, other than before its typical hibernation period in 2020.
“Wiarton Willie is everything to Wiarton and the South Bruce Peninsula,” Jackson told The Canadian Press in an interview Thursday.
The city publicly acknowledged Willie’s death this week, months after he failed to appear on Groundhog Day, and said a brown groundhog will take over his role next year.
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Wiarton Willie is an albino groundhog who fictitiously predicts whether or not spring comes early depending on whether he “sees” his shadow every Groundhog Day. The February festival in Wiarton, a community of about 2,000 residents, is a major tourist attraction in the area.
Jackson said the city wanted to have a “stand-in” albino groundhog on hand before announcing Willie’s death and “passing the crown” to the new Willie.
But they never found one.
“Timing is everything,” Jackson said.
“Wiarton Willie has put us on the international map and we are very, very protective of the Wiarton Willie brand. And we were faced with an enigma, clearly one that took us by surprise, and we had to chart a way forward in the best possible way to protect our city. “
Willie died in his sleep of a tooth abscess, Jackson said.
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The city made a conscious decision to keep the death a secret, Jackson said, in hopes of finding a replacement. Jackson said they contacted zoos and hunters in Canada and the United States. But their time is up: Groundhogs take shelter for the winter while hibernating.
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“We just couldn’t find a white groundhog,” he said.
“As soon as our window of opportunity closed, we let the public know because the last thing we want to do is show up on the morning of the prediction with the brown groundhog when Wiarton Willie is the only albino forecaster in the world, and we didn’t. ‘ I don’t want to do that to our community. “
Rumors of Willie’s death had swirled since last Groundhog Day after the city released a video showing the mayor tossing a fur hat and making the annual prediction of how long the winter would last, without the animal at hand. view. There were no in-person events due to the pandemic. The Canadian press repeatedly asked about Willie’s whereabouts that day, but the city did not respond.
When asked if he could have told the public earlier, Jackson simply said “no.”
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When the last Willie died in 2017, his understudy was waiting behind the scenes. So the city held a quick funeral while “passing the torch” to the new Willie in front of hundreds of people at Blue Water Park next to the Wiarton Willie statue.
The city kept another 1999 Willie death a secret for about a week until Groundhog Day. His caretaker, Sam Brouwer, discovered that Willie was frozen to death. The backup Willie had died several months earlier, so they didn’t have a white groundhog.
The groundhog committee decided to organize a funeral for Willie and placed a previously dead and stuffed white groundhog in a coffin and revealed it on Groundhog Day, prompting sobbing from the children in the audience.
The mayor said she hopes the recent publicity of Willie’s death will lead to sightings of albino marmots around the world so they can “adopt” another white rodent, but admitted the timing now makes it almost impossible to find a white groundhog in time. for Groundhog. Day.
“Unfortunately, they disappear until spring,” he said.
Next year’s Groundhog Day events in early February 2022 will take place in person.
© 2021 The Canadian Press
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