Balzac Billy is taking his season-predicting talents online this year.
Due to gathering restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Blue Grass Ltd. Nursery, Sod & Garden Centre’s annual Groundhog Day celebration will be held virtually in 2021.
Typically, dozens of residents of Airdrie, Rocky View County and Calgary stir from their slumber bright and early on Feb. 2 to attend the yearly Groundhog Day event in East Balzac, to see if Balzac Billy will spot his shadow.
“Two weeks ago, we decided we really didn’t want to cancel a tradition – we wanted to keep the tradition going and keep it going hell or high water, so we’ve decided to do a live stream,” said Sheena Haffner, the business’ marketing manager.
According to Haffner, the livestream will begin shortly before 8 a.m. People will be able to tune in via Bluegrass’ Facebook or Instagram pages – @BlueGrassCGY. She added the livestream will likely come with live commentary and Balzac Billy might even be interviewed afterward.
“We’re going to be making it fun,” she said, adding the Balzac Business Association and CrossIron Mills shopping mall might also provide a livestream.
Shortly after sunrise, Balzac Billy will emerge from his burrow just east of Highway 2. If the “Prairie Prognosticator” sees his shadow, viewers can expect six more weeks of winter. If Billy cannot see his shadow, the furry forecaster predicts an early spring is on the way.
Last year, overcast skies meant Billy predicted an early spring.
Bluegrass' event has been taking place more than 10 years, according to Haffner. Throughout the last decade, the company’s Groundhog Day event has become a popular yearly tradition, complete with live music and a free pancake breakfast for attendees. Balzac Billy also attracts plenty of media attention from Calgary news networks.
“It’s a great community of people who come together to celebrate something for fun,” she said. “That’s what Groundhog Day is; a fun event. We need more events like that around the city that are just for fun.”
While relying on the judgment of a rodent meteorologist to see how long winter will last might not be the most scientific way of forecasting the seasons, Haffner said people always enjoy the tradition.
“This time of year, we’re all feeling the aftermath of Christmas and we’re all starting to dream about spring,” she said. “There’s nothing more uplifting than seeing Billy [not see his shadow] and realizing we’re supposed to have an early spring. I think gardening starts with dreaming in January or February, so this is a really nice light at the end of the tunnel of the cold Calgary winter.”
According to an article about the first Groundhog Day on History.com, the tradition dates back to 1887 in the United States. On Feb. 2 that year, a group of businessmen and groundhog hunters in Punxsutawney, Pa., trekked to a local hill known as Gobbler’s Knob, where the inaugural event took place.
More than 130 years later, Punxsutawney is still regarded as the world capital for Groundhog Day celebrations. Each February, thousands of people travel to the small town in west Pennsylvania to find out if the famous groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil will spot his shadow. The site was made even more famous by the 1993 film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray.
Like other Groundhog Day events around the world, Punxsutawney’s event will move to an online format this winter, due to the pandemic.
“Phil, along with the inner circle, will be making his live annual prognostication from Gobbler’s Knob this coming Groundhog Day [on Feb. 2],” states a post on the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club website. “But it has been determined that there will not be any in-person attendance or guests on the grounds as the potential COVID risks to overcome are too great.”