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Introducing the new Wiarton Willie! (4 photos)

Named 'Wee Willie' by Wiarton officials, the two-year-old critter was found wandering in backyards near Barrie
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An albino groundhog from Simcoe County will assume the starring role as Canada's most famous prognosticating rodent. 

The Town of South Bruce Peninsula announced on Wednesday that Wiarton Willie had died of natural causes at the age of 13.

A young understudy from Oro-Medonte is set to step into the spotlight of annual spring predictions. 

"I think he's going to transition into his leading role pretty seamlessly. We're looking forward to 2018 prediction morning and see how our new Willie shapes up," said Mayor Janice Jackson, Town of South Bruce Penninsula. 

Named 'Wee Willie' by Wiarton officials, the two-year-old critter was found wandering in backyards in Oro-Medonte.

Crystal Wallace and her sister discovered the pug-nosed groundhog two years ago living under sheds and in a woodpile.

"We knew where we live there's a lot of coyotes so we didn't know what to do with him. My sister had the brilliant idea of calling Wiarton and they were ecstatic," Wallace said. 

"We live-trapped him and they came the same day and picked him up because they said they had been on the hunt for a back-up groundhog."

Wallace's 3-year-old nephew Cooper had nicknamed the groundhog 'Zook' and the families still use that handle to refer to the now famous backyard pet.   

The town has been sending email updates to let young Cooper know how his 'little buddy' is doing.

"The town even gave Cooper a little stuffy to thank him for handing Zook over," said Wallace.

A memorial service will be held on Sept. 30 in Wiarton starting at 11 a.m. to honour its world famous citizen who the town says served his country with pride every Groundhog Day. 

"It's a difficult time," said Jackson. "You get attached to them over the years. This one served Wiarton for 11 Groundhog Day predictions. He was quite good at it. Quite used to people. He responded to people remarkably well."

Most groundhogs in the wild live to be approximately four years old, with shorter life spans typically for the albino variety who are also rare, according to the town. 

The new Willie will be formally introduced following the memorial service and the creature's first 'owners' in Simcoe County will be watching with pride.

"We were worried about him. We didn't want him to come into harm. He was so fragile and so small.  He was just a little guy and really cute," said Wallace.

"He's Wee Willie to them but he's Zook to us. It's pretty darn exciting. We love it."