Winnipeg Willow dies suddenly, cancelling Groundhog Day celebration

Winnipeg Willow

Unfortunately, Winnipeggers might have to wait to find out how long winter will last this year.

Five-year-old Winnipeg Willow, a woodchuck known for her weather predictions, died suddenly on Friday night.

Woodchucks normally live between four and six years, so she lived a full life, but her passing still took those at the Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre by surprise.

“She was acting her normal self this morning and eating a carrot, but [we] came in this evening to find her gone,” the centre posted on Facebook late on Friday.

Photo by Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre

Like Ontario’s Wiarton Willie and Nova Scotia’s Schubenacadie Sam, Willow acted as the city’s weather prognosticator, predicting when spring would arrive based on whether or not she saw her shadow on February 2.

But this wasn’t all Willow did. According to the rehab centre, she also served as an ambassador of her species. She came to the centre as an orphan in 2010 after her mother was killed by a dog. Although they intended to release her back into the wild, she later broke her leg and became too attached to staff to survive on her own. Instead she took on her educational role and began travelling to schools across the province.

Sheila Smith, who worked with Willow for a number of years, told CBC News that she showed people another side of an animal that can sometimes get a bad reputation. She said that people tend to consider woodchucks pests, but that their views often changed after meeting Willow.

Photo by Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre

But Willow didn’t just change people’s minds about woodchucks: “She loved her sweet peas and her kale greens. She had her vegetables while she was at school, which taught the kids to eat their vegetables too,” Smith said.

The untimely event forced the centre to cancel this year’s Groundhog Day celebration, though they say her behaviour in the days leading up to her death indicated an early spring.

“She was eager to head outdoors,” the centre wrote.