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Wiarton Willie sees shadow, forecasts six more weeks of winter

Wiarton, Ontario, Mayor John Close (right) laughs after listening to groundhog Wiarton Willie's weather prediction in Wiarton on Sunday February 2, 2014. The groundhog prognosticator predicted 6 more weeks of winter. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Frank Gunn

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Wiarton, Ontario, Mayor John Close (right) laughs after listening to groundhog Wiarton Willie's weather prediction in Wiarton on Sunday February 2, 2014. The groundhog prognosticator predicted 6 more weeks of winter. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Frank Gunn

WIARTON, Ont. - Canada's major prognosticating rodents provided a split decision on whether the country is in for an early spring or six more weeks of winter.

Ontario's Wiarton Willie emerged from his cozy den Sunday morning and immediately spotted his shadow, which according to groundhog folklore means Canadians can expect six more weeks of what has already been a long, cold, snowy winter.

Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam was the first groundhog out, delivering a promising forecast for winter weary Canucks after he did not see his shadow — signalling an early spring.

In Manitoba, the lesser-known Winnipeg Willow also did not see her shadow.

In Wiarton, Ont., Willie's verdict didn't stop the festivities from getting into full swing despite more than 20 centimetres of snow being dumped on the small town of about 2,300 this weekend. Bagpipers, town criers and the groundhog's "shadow cabinet" of sharply dressed advisers in bright purple suits helped Willie make his prediction.

Wiarton Mayor John Close and Groundhog Day festival founder Mac Mackenzie were on hand to help announce Willie's verdict in front of hundreds of eager onlookers from across the province.

The crowd chanted "Wake up Willie!" as the albino groundhog stood perched in his plexiglass cage overlooking the crowd, as two traditionally dressed town criers rang bells and announced his arrival in anticipation of the prediction.

Onlookers were split on the decision, as half of those in attendance groaned in disappointment at the news of six more weeks of winter, while the other half cheered with joy.

"Well it's going to take us six weeks just to dig out of the snow we have here, so it might take longer than six weeks to get out of this winter," said local resident Trevor Gilberte.

"Willie's the best. If you look at his success rate he's about 60 per cent, way better than the other two, so he's got it sorted out ... it's part of being albino, he's got a direct line."

Other residents weren't so pleased with Willie's predictions, regardless of whether they turn out to be accurate or not.

"That Willie, he's just like the politicians, he just waits to see the way the wind is blowing," said Keith Davidson, of nearby Campbell Shore.

"Some people like six more weeks of winter, or some people want an early spring. But they're both the same, and people don't realize what he's up to. He's a great politician that Willie, he's getting better."

Despite the split reaction from the crowd, those expecting a shorter winter could seek comfort in the upbeat music, funny costumes and complimentary breakfast provided by organizers.

"It's a community event, it brings everybody out and gets us up in the middle of winter, and there's lots of events to go to and dances and bands and it's just a great way to get everybody geared up for the coming summer," said Gilberte.

Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil — the most famous groundhog of them all — followed suit with Willie and saw his shadow, signalling a long winter for those south of the border.

But regardless of what the woodchuck weathermen say, Environment Canada predicts the frigid temperatures that have gripped much of the country the past two months will likely persist through February.

Even provinces that have enjoyed unseasonably warm temperatures, such as British Columbia and parts of Alberta, are expected to feel the chill in the coming weeks.

Despite this, local residents kept an upbeat attitude in the face of criticism against Willie and his prediction.

"Get the snow shoes out we're ready," said Sue Allison, of Wiarton. "Come what may, come what might, Wiarton Willie's always right!"

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