For the past 40 years, Balzac Billy has popped out of his burrow on Groundhog Day to predict whether or not spring will come early – and the tradition continues into 2018 with the 15th annual Balzac Billy Groundhog Day breakfast Feb. 2 at Blue Grass Nursery, Sod and Garden Centre.
“Everyone comes out to hear Balzac Billy’s prognostication, when he sticks his head up out of his burrow outside of our building, where he’s been sleeping for the winter,” said Steve Neubauer with Blue Grass, co-ordinator of the Groundhog Day event.
According to Neubauer, Balzac Billy is one of the area’s most accurate prognosticators. While many other groundhogs depend on their handlers to interpret their predictions, he said Balzac Billy himself will give a reliable thumbs-up or thumbs-down depending on what he sees when he emerges from his burrow.
Balzac Billy will make his appearance around 8 a.m., Neubauer said, but the breakfast runs from 7 to 9 a.m. – giving the audience plenty of time to enjoy some live music and their first “Stampede breakfast” of the year. Tim Hortons will be on hand serving coffee to go with the pancakes and ham on the menu to keep the crowd warm.
“We see anywhere from 300 to 500 people annually, which is amazing,” Neubauer said. “It’s February, so it’s pretty cold, and it’s really early in the morning. But somehow, we still get hundreds of people out.”
According to Neubauer, the event is put on by the entire Balzac community. Businesses, like Blue Grass and CrossIron Mills mall, provide donations, and volunteers from the Balzac United Church show up each year to help make sure the breakfast runs smoothly.
“This event started back in 1978 at the Balzac gas bar cafeteria, and was eventually moved to the Balzac Hall,” Neubauer said.
“It became too big for that little parking lot from a safety perspective so, in 2011, it was moved out here to Blue Grass.”
Still, Neubauer said, the event remains an opportunity for people to gather together at a community meeting place – but it has grown over the years thanks to increased development in the area, and more traffic passing by from Stoney Trail. He said he’s pleased Blue Grass can provide a great space for the celebration.
“Being in the garden centre business, we want to kick-start the season and get people excited about spring – getting their hands dirty, putting seeds in the ground, and planning for the summer,” Neubauer said.
“The whole thing about Groundhog Day is that feeling of optimism, knowing that we’re past the worst part of winter and hopefully, with a favourable verdict, spring is on the way.”