Behind the scenes with Wiarton Willie on Groundhog Day

An exclusive look at how the iconic animal prepares for the annual event and his thoughts about the seasonal prediction

Photo (Cyclical Core), Art (Kristen Frier)

Groundhog Day is the most important day of the year. This North American holiday of germanic origin has people gather together to see if winter will be prolonged or if spring will come early. 

Determining whether or not humanity will be damned with six extra weeks of the Canadian cold or blessed with the only good season of the year necessitates the role of marmota monax — the token groundhog. If the rodent of the squirrel family does not see its shadow, then spring will come early. If it does, well tough luck.

Experts say the changing of seasons being dependent upon a marmot noticing itself blocking sunlight is unscientific, and I quote, “What sort of question is that you ludicrous fool? I am having dinner, please go away,” and “How did you get in my house? I’m calling the police!”

However, in the name of journalistic neutrality, I sought to cover both sides of this issue and met with the one true definitive source of information who does not make unwarranted calls to the police: the woodchuck himself, Wiarton Willie the fifth.

I met Willie at his studio burrow in the community of Wiarton, Ontario, a bustling metropolis that goes to bed at 9:00 pm sharp, even on weekends. Willie delayed the interview for five-minutes to “prepare himself emotionally” for the round of questioning. 

After 28-minutes of half-hearted self-affirmations, sobbing, whole-hearted self-depreciation, more sobbing, and a final bout of half-hearted self-affirmations in the bathroom mirror (with the door left wide open), Willie appeared no different than when he first excused himself. This courageous reporter wanted to go home, but braved the social awkwardness in the name of journalistic truth and a pay day.

“Groundhog Day is an important cultural tradition of Pennsylvania Dutch origin,” Willie read monotonously from a cue card that he made no attempts to hide. “It is a family-friendly event that unites people of all backgrounds and is an important tourist attraction for the Wiarton economy.”

Willie did not finish reading his cue cards. He dropped them onto the kitchen table and muttered how this was a bad week to quit smoking. After several minutes of silence, I ventured to ask Willie if he enjoyed his role heralding the seasons.

“Of course, I like it. I have to like it. I was raised to do this. What else do I have?” He said. 

Willie said it’s all a show.

“They pull me out on Feb. 2, wave me around and make a big spectacle of my shadow, and then forget about me until next year,” Willie said as he called to his protégé, Wee Willie, in the other room.

“Billy-boy, tell this guy what I told you. Y’know, that thing Willie the fourth told me!”

Wee Willie, who is the heir to the Wiarton Willie title, and the sole reason why this hog burrow has not yet fully descended into a pigsty, yelled from elsewhere in the domicile, “What? That this life is a restaurant kitchen with only one smoke break per shift?” 

“Exactly! Thanks Billy!” Willie turned back to me looking a tad more content than earlier. “You see, that’s what it is. That’s my job, get it?”

I told Willie that I did not due to being a non-smoking home cooker. He promptly ended the interview and asked that I leave. Thankfully, the threat of police was not used as an unfair power play. Perhaps Wiarton Willie is an enigmatic marmot who we ordinary folk will never truly understand.