Groundhog Day: Shubenacadie Sam doesn’t see her shadow, foretelling spring’s arrival

Celebrity groundhog Shubenacadie Sam slowly waddled out of her tiny barn this morning and, under a grey Nova Scotia sky, reportedly could not see her shadow.

According to centuries-old folklore, that’s good news for Canadians tired of wintry weather.

Shubenacadie Sam looks around after emerging from his burrow at the wildlife park in Shubenacadie, N.S. on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, 2018. The beloved and occasionally controversial annual event that inspired the classic Bill Murray comedy film will see celebrity rodents make their spring predictions today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

The tradition holds that if a groundhog doesn’t see its shadow on Groundhog Day, springlike weather will soon arrive. But if a shadow appears, winter’s icy grip won’t let go for quite some time.

Andrew Boyne, director of wildlife with the provincial Natural Resources Department, looked up at the low clouds and said: “Unless there’s some meteorological miracle, it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen.”

At 8 a.m. local time, the door to Sam’s enclosure was opened by Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton, but Sam — or Samantha — did not come out.

“Come on, woodchuck!” shouted one youngster who was among a group of bundled-up onlookers at the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park north of Halifax.

About five minutes later, Sam took a few tentative steps outside, then immediately ducked into a thicket of evergreens and disappeared.

As usual, Shubenacadie Sam was the first groundhog in North America to make a prediction. 

Folklorists say the Groundhog Day ritual may have something to do with Feb. 2 landing midway between winter solstice and spring equinox. In medieval Europe, farmers believed that if hedgehogs emerged from their burrows to catch insects, that was a sure sign of an early spring. 

However, when Europeans settled in eastern North America, the groundhog was substituted for the hedgehog.

The successor to Fred la Marmotte in Val d’Espoir, Que., also predicted an early spring on Friday. Fred Jr. emerged after daybreak into falling snow, and there was no shadow to be seen.

Last year, the late Fred was found dead shortly before the Groundhog Day festivities. He was hastily replaced with a child plucked from the event crowd, who held up a stuffed toy groundhog and declared that spring would be delayed. 

Roberto Blondin, an organizer of the event and the mayor of Sainte-Thérèse-de-Gaspé, Que., said Fred Jr. was ready to follow in the footsteps of the late Fred, and Gros Fred before him. 

“But it’s all relative, like they said in the time of kings: ‘The king is dead, long live the king,’ so we’re starting again with a new groundhog,” Blondin said in an interview earlier this week. 

In Wiarton, Ont., the community’s famous groundhog, Wiarton Willie, was expected to make an appearance at 8:07 a.m. eastern time.

Those keeping the Wiarton Willie tradition alive have also been seeking a fresh start in the aftermath of controversy. 

The groundhog was nowhere to be seen at the festivities held virtually in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. It took nine months for the town to acknowledge the albino rodent had died. 

Willie’s handlers brought in an understudy the following year, but in a break from long-standing tradition, that animal was the usual brown colour. A white-haired replacement Willie was finally procured from Ohio for Groundhog Day in 2023. 

It remains to be seen what Willie will look like today, but organizers say the rodent’s prediction will be ushered in with pre-dawn fireworks over the Wiarton Arena parking lot. 

The most famous Groundhog Day event in North America is taking place in western Pennsylvania, where Punxsutawney Phil also predicted an early spring. 

Thousands were expected to attend Phil’s annual declaration that exploded in popularity after the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day,” in which a curmudgeonly TV weatherman is stuck in a time loop and forced to relive the day in Punxsutawney over and over.

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