Written by S: Matthew Becallo, CNN Toronto, Canada; i: Lindsay Talley, CNN
A groundhog whose prediction helped Canada to record-breaking warmth in January 2015 is dead at age 59.
Mayor Wayne Hurst told the National Post , the groundhog in Wiarton, Ontario, who goes by the name Wiarton Willie, died a year ago. Willie was the only groundhog in Canada to forecast six more weeks of winter at the beginning of 2016.
“He was the longest-lived of his kind,” Hurst told the newspaper.
Hurst said Willie died peacefully in his sleep a little over a year ago. A memorial service for the rodent is scheduled for Saturday in the township about 440 miles east of Toronto.
The Groundhog Day tradition in the city got its start in Wiarton in 1907, according to the city’s official website. It says an early citizen delivered a message to the Ontario Legislative Assembly asking for lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow the annual groundhog poll to be held in town. In early 1909, the first Wiarton Game Reserve groundhog poll was held. The tradition has continued.
Hurst told the newspaper that the notion of a furry harbinger of winter first sprang up in Western Europe centuries ago as a way to help farmers use less fuel by sensing how cold the soil would get. In the 20th century, the tradition spread.
Hurst told the Post that if the temperature drops below minus 20 Fahrenheit, Willie will point to his left eye, and if the temperature rises above minus 20 he will point to his right eye.
“He is a well-known and beloved icon in Wiarton,” Hurst said. “He began his forecast with a symbolic ‘straight-up-the-middle, hot dog’ move and most of his more recognizable right-eye rituals were done from a kneeling position.”