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Rare Bear: A Tribute to Mac Mackenzie

Photo credit flickr

Groundhog Day will never be the same again in Canada. Many are mourning the death of creator Mac Mackenzie, the man behind one of Canada’s most celebrated Groundhogs, Wiarton Willie. He created the snow-white Groundhog some 63 years ago.

There are several groundhogs in Canada. From Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia, Mud Lake Murray in Huronia, February Fred in Cowichan B.C. and others to be sure, but none has reached the stature of Wiarton Willie.

I was with Mac MacKenzie the Night he thought up Wiarton Willie.  Before he became Industrial Commissioner to Owen Sound, Mac was a secretary to Dr. Mathew Diamond, the Health Minister of Ontario who took the bars off Ontario’s asylums and changed their names to Hospitals for the Mentally Ill. A creative man by nature, it was one of several great promotions that Mac had.

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With only one week to plan, he and fellow announcer Don Danard had an idea for Owen Sound and Wiarton — a groundhog festival.  I thought it such a good idea that I added it as a kicker to the Eleven O’Clock News broadcast.  But as soon as I signed off the newscast, the pair confronted me and said, “We were only thinking, not actually doing, just thinking about it!” However, they told me to “wait a day or two” and they would get back to me…’meantime don’t make any more announcements.’

Photo credit flickr

The next day they appeared with the news that it was a go. It seemed too good an idea to pass up.

From there followed a flurry of activity to promote the event, and a wonderful first event it was. A typical cold Georgian Bay winter weekend complete with lots of snow.  Several cars got stuck but the attendance was encouraging and the entire ceremony and several events went off without a hitch.

From Grundoon, as he was first named, to Wiarton Willie in year two, The Wiarton Willie Festival, now in its 63rd year, has grown to be one of Canada’s Premier Winter Events.


Ode to Wiarton Willy

Wiarton Willy
White as can be,
Sits in splendor
Beneath a tree
It’s laden with snow
But he knows where to go
And he does;

For six weeks

He goes below
Where there is no snow
And the wind doesn’t howl
In his ears
And he rests his soul
‘Till Spring appears

And then he knows

When Summer is over
And Autumn arrives
And the fall winds blow
Through the trees
He hibernates
Till the winter abates
And then he awakes
On the date.

February Second
GroundHog Day

Rev. C.J. Barry Kentner

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