Sudden death of Quebec's Fred la marmotte casts a shadow on Groundhog Day

Fred la marmotte, the province's famous furry oracle in Val-d'Espoir, Que., was found dead overnight Thursday, hours before he had been expected to predict whether it would be an early or late spring.

Val-D'Espoir child took over the job Thursday, predicting 6 more weeks of winter

Fred la marmotte was found dead overnight Thursday, hours before he was set to make his prediction about spring's arrival. Roberto Blondin, pictured holding Fred, said he likely died in late fall or early December. (CBC)

Fred la marmotte, the province's famous furry oracle in Val-d'Espoir, Que., was found dead overnight Thursday, hours before he had been expected to predict whether it would be an early or late spring. 

The organizer of Thursday's Groundhog Day event in Val-d'Espoir announced the sombre news following some 40 minutes of festivities, including music and dancing. 

"In life, the only thing that's certain is that nothing is certain," said a serious Roberto Blondin in front of a crowd of awaiting spectators. 

"Well, this year it's true. It's true and it's unfortunate. I announce to you the death of Fred."

Blondin said he found the lifeless animal overnight when he tried to wake him. He said he had "no vital signs" and figures Fred passed away in late fall or early December, during hibernation, at the age of nine.

Changing the tone, Blondin said Fred loved children and would have wanted a child to fill in for him Thursday. 

A man hoisting up a child wearing a groundhog hat.
In light of the sudden death of Quebec's furry forecaster, a child was called in to make the prediction this Groundhog Day. The verdict? A late spring. (Radio-Canada)

With that, a child attending the event, wearing a groundhog hat, was called up to the stage and handed a stuffed toy groundhog. He predicted six more weeks of winter. 

Renée Laurendeau, a spokesperson for the annual Groundhog Day event, who describes herself as Fred's press agent, said everyone in the crowd was shocked to learn of the rodent's death. 

But he had had a long, successful life for a groundhog. He replaced his father, Gros Fred, and predicted the coming of spring with greater accuracy than some weather forecasters, according to Laurendeau. 

"He was awesome," Laurendeau said. "He gave awesome services, awesome prediction — 80 per cent success rate but I guess it had to come to an end."

There will be a new groundhog next year — Fred Junior, one of Fred la marmotte's sons — who will be ready to make his prediction in order to continue the tradition, assured Blondin.

No funeral arrangements have been announced for Fred.

Meanwhile, two of Canada's most famous groundhog prognosticators have made conflicting calls about spring's arrival.

Ontario's Wiarton Willie has called for an early spring while Shubenacadie Sam, Nova Scotia's most famous groundhog, apparently saw her shadow this morning as she emerged from a snow-covered enclosure at a wildlife park north of Halifax.

According to folklore, if a groundhog sees its shadow on Groundhog Day, winter will drag on. However, if it doesn't spot its shadow, spring-like weather will soon arrive.

with files from The Canadian Press and Lauren Mccallum


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