For over a year, the trusted leaders of Wiarton, Ontario, held a secret most foul close to their chests.
Their most famous resident was dead, and they covered it up.
Wiarton Willie, an albino groundhog who people trusted to tell the future about the length of winter, died last year, but citizens only learned of his demise this week after an announcement by the town authorities about the looming 2022 Groundhog Day. Janice Jackson, the mayor of South Bruce Peninsula, told the Canadian Press the town was right to allow Canadians to think their beloved Willie was still alive.
"Wiarton Willie has put us on the international map and we're very, very protective of the Wiarton Willie brand,” said Jackson. “And we were faced with a conundrum, clearly one that took us by surprise, and we had to plot a path forward the best way that we could to protect our town."
Unsurprisingly, some people are not too pleased with the news that the authorities decided to keep the nation of Canada in the shadows about Willie's passing.
Willie, without a doubt, was counted among Canada’s top 10 most famous rodents. For the last 65 years, he has been Canada’s answer to Punxsutawney Phil. A bucktooth soothsayer of the seasons.
The groundhog died in his sleep because of an abscessed tooth. Typically an understudy would be waiting in the wings in case of an untimely Willie demise, but because of the pandemic, there was no backup Willie.
So, without a replacement Willie, the town quickly decided to cover it up as they searched for a new groundhog, CP reports. They even had the gall to celebrate Groundhog Day in the absence of Willie—with Jackson releasing a video of her throwing a fur hat in the air instead.
The town’s authorities wanted to find another albino groundhog to replace the void left by big Willie’s passing but were unable to find a suitable creature that could fill their furry boy’s shoes. Now, a brown groundhog will take his place.
This isn’t the first time Canada has had to grieve for its Willie—Willie, like James Bond, has been played by various actors over the years. In 1999, Willie was found frozen solid days before Groundhog Day. Instead of the town having their mascot look for his shadow, they held a public funeral for him (using a stuffed groundhog in the place of Willie’s body.)
Willie’s then caretaker told the Canadian Press at the time that this was a good call as “the smell was something you wouldn't have wanted to be near.”
"It would have been a closed-casket funeral."
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