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A brief history of Saskatchewan's attempts to possess an official groundhog

Groundhog Club handler A.J. Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 136th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. Phil's handlers said that the groundhog has forecast six more weeks of winter. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger) Groundhog Club handler A.J. Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 136th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. Phil's handlers said that the groundhog has forecast six more weeks of winter. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
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The annual spectacle of Groundhog Day is here. However, in Saskatchewan, the prophesying event is without its central figure, an official groundhog.

A total of five provinces across Canada have an official marmot for the occasion. From Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia to Van Isle Violet in B.C.

However, in place of an official groundhog, the land of living skies has seen an abundance of forecasting from some peculiar and notable sources.

'SNEWSIE': MOOSE JAW’S PROPHESYING GOPHER

“Snewsie” was the brainchild of Warren Michelson, who came up with the idea while working as an ad executive at the Moose Jaw Times Herald.

Snewsie was the annual weather predictor for Canada’s “Most Notorious City” for a number of years in the mid 2000’s.

“We got our own Snewsie, predicting the weather for all of western Canada and its right here in Moose Jaw,” Michelson told CTV News Regina in 2008.

“We needed something that would be more localized and we thought well, the gopher being the cousin of the groundhog would be a practical thing. Its native to this area and it could tell us what the future is going to be as far as weather.”

Snewsie was of course not an actual gopher, but an anonymous Moose Jaw resident that dressed as the symbol of the prairies while delivering the forecast for the coming spring season.

GAINER THE GOPHER: A MASCOT AND FORECASTER

The mascot of the Saskatchewan Roughriders stood in for the proverbial fortune-telling rodent at an event in Dundurn in February of 2012.

CTV News Saskatoon reported from the event that Gainer emerged and did not see his shadow, indicating an early spring that year.

As it turns out, Gainer was actually correct in his assumption and the above seasonal winter led to an early spring in 2012.

WHELAN WOODY: THE UNOFFICIAL PROGNOSTICATOR

As it turns out, Saskatchewan did have an unofficial groundhog from 2014 to 2018.

Woody the Woodchuck, or Whelan Woody as he was best known as, actively made predictions about the coming spring and what laid ahead for his favourite football team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Woody was rescued by Richard and Shanno Burton in 2014, when they reportedly spotted a “tiny ball of fluff” on the side of the road near their home in Whelan Bay, in northern Saskatchewan.

The couple took Woody home and began caring for him, and the rest is history.

FORECASTING BY PIG SPLEEN – JEFF WOODWARD

Not all unorthodox forecasts involve living animals, according to Jeff Woodward.

Woodward inherited the odd skill from his uncle, Gus Wickstrom, a legendary reader of pig spleens from Tompkins, Sask.

Wickstrom passed away in 2007, after using his swine related forecasting tactics for over 40 years.

Since then, Woodward has been providing annual forecasts using Gus’s signature technique.

CTV News Regina caught up with Woodward in 2011, where he explained his unusual methods of predicting the weather.

“It wasn’t one of my career ambitions, no. But it seems like a natural fit now,” he chuckled while speaking CTV’s Dan McIntosh.

As it turns out, the practice has its roots amongst Swedish immigrants to the Canadian prairies. The logic of the process is that as pigs prepare for winter, they will accumulate fat on their spleens.

“In general, the fatty deposits mean snow or precipitation,” Woodward explained.

“With my uncle, people would phone him and say ‘I’m getting married on such and such a day, what’s the weather going to be like?’ And he’d say windy or cloudy or whatever. He’d be really accurate.”

While Woodward admitted he’s not particularly skilled, he did claim to beat out several forecasters and accurately predicted Saskatchewan’s major flooding in 2010.

THE GROUNDHOG: A SYMBOL OF HOPE

The question remains; does the spectacle of the groundhog predict the coming seasons?

According to Peter Geiger, an editor of the Farmers’ Almanac, the celebration of the groundhog every February achieves its intended purpose, which isn’t forecasting per say.

“During the darkest times of the year … I think there's always hope and I think if anything, the groundhog offers hope for an early spring,” Geiger told CTV News.

“I also think it's more of a statement, ‘God is winter going to end sooner or later?’ That's what people really want to know and I think that's kind of a charming tradition.”

For his weather forecasting needs, Geiger said he’ll put his trust in the Almanac’s work.

Marking its 206th year of operation in 2023, the Farmers’ Almanac claims to accurately forecast within the 80 per cent range.

The publication’s methods are based off sunspot activity and a central mathematical formula, according to Geiger.

“So in our case, our first editor, his name was David Young, and he was a mathematician, a calculator and an astronomer. So he put together a mathematical formula that is applied to sunspot activity, planet positions and the effects that we would have on the Earth. All of those plus the mathematical formula allows us to do our weather two years in advance,” he explained.

“And that seems to work very well for us.”

As for this year’s forecast, the Farmers’ Almanac is calling for a “lion-like” end to March with a wide variety of beligerent weather ranging from snow to heavy rain across western Canada.

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