The Story of Wiarton Willie Day (aka Ground Hog Day) is an interesting one. Wiarton, ON is just a stone’s throw away from Owen Sound, and people from there take their festivities very, very, very seriously…
The Story of Wiarton Willie or Ground Hog Day Dates Back to 1956.
A Wiarton resident named Mac McKenzie (yes – full name Mackenzie McKenzie) wanted to showcase his childhood home to his many friends, so he sent out invitations for a “Groundhog Day” gathering.
One of these invitations fell into the hands of a Toronto Star reporter. The reporter travelled to Wiarton looking for the Groundhog Day event. None of the townspeople knew about a festival, but one suggested he check at the Arlington Hotel, the local watering hole.
Making it to the hotel, the reporter found McKenzie and his friends partying and was invited to join them.
The next day, the reporter lamented to McKenzie that he needed some kind of story to take back to justify his expenses, so McKenzie grabbed his wife’s fur hat, which had a large button on the front, went out to the parking lot, dug a burrow in the snow and pronounced a prognostication (which no one remembers).
The picture of Mac and the hat ran in the February 3, 1956 edition of the Toronto Star. A year later, about 50 people arrived at the festival. Half were reporters from various media, including the CBC and Canadian Press. Seizing on the opportunity, McKenzie invented a festival that has been added to over the years.
Today, Groundhog Day brings in 10 thousand people and piles of money for the tiny town of Wiarton. It has been called “one the most popular events in Ontario” and has twice been named “the World’s Greatest Event” by Seattle’s Festivals.com.
If you ever find yourself in Ontario on the 2nd of Feb and you’re looking for an excuse to start consuming alcohol at the crack of dawn, we highly recommend this cultural experience.
Written by Chelsea King