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Balzac Billy set to emerge at Blue Grass

Dozens of residents will stir from their slumber bright and early Feb. 2 to attend a popular Balzac winter tradition – Blue Grass Ltd. Nursery, Sod & Garden Centre’s annual Groundhog Day celebration.

“We’re very excited for it this year, and I hope lots of people come out to see us,” said the garden centre's marketing manager, Sheena Haffner. “I think we throw a pretty great event – it’s a lot of fun for families, and a good time.”

The free event will kick off at 7 a.m. with a pancake breakfast accompanied by a live performance from country band Jeske.

At sunrise – scheduled for approximately 8:11 a.m. – Balzac Billy will emerge from his burrow. If the “Prairie Prognosticator” sees his shadow, we can expect six more weeks of winter. If the sky is overcast, the furry forecaster predicts we’re in for an early spring.

Though relying on the judgment of a groundhog to see how long winter will last might not be the most scientific way of predicting the seasons, Haffner said people always enjoy the tradition.

“It’s that time of year, when Groundhog Day rolls around, that everyone is longing for spring,” she said. “It just gives them a little glimpse of hope – that light at the end of the tunnel – that spring is coming soon."

Last year, Balzac Billy did not see his shadow, predicting an early spring. However, his proclamation missed the mark, as Alberta spent most of February and the first half of March 2019 in the midst of a polar vortex, with temperatures dropping as low as -30 C.

But Billy’s poor prediction last winter was the norm – according to a history.com, groundhogs are only right in their predictions about 40 per cent of the time.

The history of Groundhog Day dates back to 1887, according to the site. On Feb. 2 that year, a group of businessmen and groundhog hunters in Punxsutawney, Pa., trekked to a local site known as Gobbler’s Knob, where the inaugural celebration took place.

More than 130 years later, Punxsutawney is still regarded as the world capital of Groundhog Day, and thousands travel to the small town each February to find out what the famous groundhog – known as Punxsutawney Phil – will predict.

In Balzac, the Groundhog Day festivities have been held for more than a decade. Haffner said the event has become one of the most popular Groundhog Day celebrations in the Calgary area – despite the early hour – and the event always attracts residents and media attention.

“It’s a really fun family event that people enjoy,” she said.

According to Haffner, Blue Grass will be accepting donations during the event for the Rocky View Regional Handibus Society – a shared-ride service that assists people with transportation barriers. The society provides residents in Chestermere, Cochrane, Crossfield and Rocky View County with rides to medical appointments, the bank, grocery stores and more.



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Scott Strasser

About the Author: Scott Strasser

Scott Strasser, sports/RCMP reporter
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