What is Groundhog Day?Although it isn't an official holiday, Groundhog Day is a fun event which takes place every February. On the morning of February 2nd, many North Americans wait to hear weather predictions from one of a handful of famous groundhogs (also known as woodchucks). The story goes that on this morning, hibernating groundhogs poke their heads out of their burrows. If it's a bright clear day and they see their shadow, it means there will be six more weeks of harsh winter; if it's overcast and they don't see their shadow, we'll be treated to early spring weather.
The modern tradition involves large Groundhog Day festivals, with officials presenting the local groundhog on a stage in front of residents, tourists and media to declare whether or not the shadow was seen. This kind of Groundhog Day celebration began with Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania and was depicted in the 1993 film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray.
But Groundhog Day has more ancient ties than that, and is thought to have sprung from cultural traditions which German immigrants brought to Pennsylvania.
Ontario's Wiarton WillieAlthough Pennsylvania isn't that far away, on February 2nd most Torontonians listen for the predictions of Wiarton Willie, an albino groundhog who resides in South Bruce Peninsula. Willie lives north west of Toronto, beyond Owen Sound. Although the current Willie is newer to the job, Wiarton has been holding a Groundhog Day festival since the 1950s.
The Wiarton Willie FestivalWiarton plans several days of entertainment and family activities surrounding Groundhog Day. Many activities during the Wiarton Willie Festival are free, although there are usually big-name musical performances and other shows which require a ticket. If you're interested in making the trip out, there are detailed driving directions and other transportation information available in the "Visitors" section of the Town of South Bruce Peninsula's official website. And remember, Willie makes his prediction just after the sun comes up, so you'll probably want to stay overnight.
Mississauga's Groundhog Day MarathonThere aren't many events in the Greater Toronto Area tied to Groundhog Day, but the City of Mississauga does host a free Groundhog Day Marathon and skating party! From 10am until 10pm the film Groundhog Day is shown on the large outdoor screens in Celebration Square by the Mississauga Civic Centre, a space which also has a skating rink (weather permitting). The screenings are free, and begin every two hours, at 10am, noon, 2pm, 4pm, 6pm, 8pm.
Groundhog Day at the Kortright Centre for ConservationWith Groundhog Day falling on a Saturday in 2013, the Kortright Centre for Conservation in Woodbridge is offering programming focused on the animals with a hike, information about hibernation, and a look at Groundhog Day lore (1pm and 2:30pm).
Groundhog Day at the Toronto Zoo?In 2011 the Toronto Zoo introduced Herman, the Vancouver Island marmot, who made a weather prediction of his own when he chose a snack laid out under an "Early Spring" sign (watch the video on the Toronto Zoo's YouTube channel).
Vancouver Island marmots, which are close relatives of groundhogs, are considered a Critically Endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' Red List. Herman and other Vancouver Island marmots at the Toronto Zoo reside there as part of the zoo's conservation efforts, and are not on display for the public.
Although a visit to the Toronto Zoo can sometimes include a stop at the woodchuck enclosure in the Kids Zoo section of the Zellers Discovery Zone, the Kids Zoo is only open from mid-May until October. Still, a visit to the zoo around Groundhog Day offers a great opportunity to look for information on other animals that hibernate and talk about other ways animals adapt to colder weather.
Groundhog Day at Home and SchoolCoincidentally, Canada's Family Literacy Day falls just six days before Groundhog Day. This annual event encourages families to read, play and learn together all year long, especially by tying fun games and activities to what's going on in daily life. Groundhog Day offers parents and teachers a great chance to explore a variety of topics, including:
- Changing seasons
- Weather patterns and predictions
- Groundhogs and their relatives
- Folklore and traditions
- And even geography and time differences (why Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam makes his prediction so much earlier than Alberta's Balzac Billy)