Over my time at Western, I’ve come to a realization—I didn’t have a typical childhood.
It was atypical for many reasons—I grew up in a log cabin in the woods, lived outside of a town with a population of 400 and spent my summer vacations getting paid to “monitor” a beachfront parking lot. But one part of my childhood that I didn’t realize was so strange until recently was my deep, intimate knowledge of Groundhog Day.
You see, I grew up 10 minutes outside of the town of Wiarton, Ontario—home of Wiarton Willie, groundhog prognosticator to the world, or so I was told.
In this strange little bubble of midwestern Ontario, Groundhog Day was right up there with every other major holiday. If you’ve ever seen the movie Halloweentown, imagine that, but replace witches and goblins with senior citizens wearing fake groundhog ears.
Before young students even considered cutting out cardboard Valentine cards in my hometown, we were busy colouring in pages of Willie, which wasn’t all that exciting considering Willie is an albino groundhog, as we all know.
The town literally goes crazy for this holiday. If, in early February, you see a lineup of townsfolk at the local grocery store, arms brimming with salty snacks, you can bet it’s not for a Superbowl party—it’s for Groundhog Day.
There’s a whole festival for it—a bonspiel, a dance, a parade and even a beauty pageant. In fact, I’m very proud to say that this year my good friend’s little sister was named second princess in the groundhog pageant—even if she was robbed of the big crown.
At sunrise on Groundhog Day hundreds of people gather around Willie’s groundhog hole as the town mayor—who speaks “groundhogese”—asks Willie whether or not he saw his shadow. If he does, it means six more weeks of winter. But if he doesn’t, it means an early spring. Then everyone goes to the legion and has pancakes.
I really wish I was making some of this up. Growing up in the area, this seemed like perfectly normal happenstance. “Of course the mayor talks to a rodent once a year, of course the entire town misses work and school to find out Willie’s prediction,” I thought. “It’s perfectly normal for every 16-year-old girl to dream of winning the groundhog crown, right?”
But now, getting it all on paper, it suddenly seems very strange. And this also might explain all the bizarre looks I get from other Western students who had a more normal childhood when I start talking about Willie.
But today, on all days, I’m proud of my strange heritage. I could have had the same boring childhood as everybody else, but instead I was lucky to have been from a place with a little bit of character, even as silly as this particular character is.
There are pros and cons to everyone’s childhood, but I consider my knowledge of groundhog lore a unique—if strange—benefit of living in the Wiarton area.
Today, I’m proud to say that I’m looking forward to telling everyone who will listen about the funny little town where I grew up—and receiving that annual phone call from my mother, filling me in on Willie’s big prediction, without even an ounce of irony. Happy Groundhog Day, everyone!