Groundhog’s day tradition lives on in Fred Jr.

Graphic by Keven Vaillancourt / The Concordian

Will Fred Jr. predict an early spring?

Last year, in the small town of Val d’Espoir near Gaspé, brought the unfortunate tragedy of the loss of Fred la Marmotte on Groundhog’s Day. With this year’s celebration on the horizon, two organizers of the event, Roberto Blondin and Renée Laurendeau, look forward to continuing the tradition with Fred’s successor, Fred Jr. 

Both Blondin and Laurendeau have been the organizers behind the event for the last 15 years. In an interview with The Concordian, Blondin explained how he broke the news to the public last year about the passing of Fred la Marmotte. “I came to a point and asked to myself, ‘What do I tell everyone?’ AlI the journalists were approaching me  before doing the official predication and were asking how Fred was doing. I had to lie to them and say Fred was doing great,” Blondin recounted.

During the period of October to February, Blondin explained that he did not see Fred at all. He made sure that he had enough food and water during hibernation, as well as monitoring the temperature of Fred’s enclosure. “Groundhogs, in general, prepare hibernation in the autumn. It’s almost like the concept of photosynthesis—the leaves on trees start to yellow because of the colder temperatures of the season,” Blondin explained. “The groundhog thinks the same; as soon as it sees that the days become shorter, it’ll start its hibernation process.”  

It is not possible to say exactly when Fred passed, but he lived a truly long life. According to Blondin, Fred passed away at the age of nine—most groundhogs live at most three to four years! “You know the old saying, ‘Long live the king?’ So when the groundhog dies, the symbol is always there,” Blondin explained. “It’s just like Santa Claus,” Laurendeau chimed in with a smile.

Keeping the tradition of Groundhog’s Day alive is very important to Blondin and Laurendeau. Both agreed that the quaint town of Val D’Espoir is the perfect location for the occasion—a place where early in the morning, one could see the sun rise over the chain of mountains and feel the breeze coming from the ocean. “I find myself going into my corner depanneur and feeling surprised that people still talk about Fred’s prediction. The saying goes, ‘It takes a village to raise a kid,’ well, in our case it takes a village to raise a groundhog,” Blondin said.

In terms of planning the event every year, Laurendeau gets into the Groundhog’s Day spirit even before the holidays come around. “I start thinking about Groundhog’s Day generally right around the month of November. I’ll start by verifying my list of journalists that I need to contact for the event.”

Blondin expressed that he loves being Fred’s handler. Participating in the tradition each year, he sees it being passed down through generations—and how the kids that attended the event when it first began continue to show interest as teenagers. The sense of community brings pride to Blondin, who initially started the event as a way to raise money for the school board in Val D’Espoir.  

“It’s really a special thing, if you think about it, because we show a groundhog that we claim can predict the weather, and he has a 50 percent chance of being wrong. I truly believe that we are better than Phil in the US, Sam in Nova Scotia, and Willie in Ontario, in terms of getting the prediction right,” Blondin said.

Groundhog’s Day is not only a day all about Fred, but also a way to promote Gaspé. Everyone can tune in on Feb. 2 through the livestream, or better yet, in person. 

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