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Conference & Stage Expo
For the Record
Toronto Weather?
It's a Guessing Game

Paul Court
Toronto Promotions Coordinator

The UISTT Annual Conference & Stage Expo in Toronto is international on many levels, for not only is the Institute hosting the World Stage Design, and the OISTAT World Congress with its Canadian counterparts in CITT/ICTS, the Institute is meeting in another country. To ensure easy travel to Canada, please remember to carry the essentials.

It is mere weeks until the USITT Annual Conference & Stage Expo begins in mid-March. According to the folks at the USITT office, one question recurs with increasing frequency, "What will the weather be like in Toronto?"

If this year's Conference were being held in Antarctica, the Sahara Desert, or California, we would stand a good chance of coming up with an accurate prediction. But this year's delegates will come to Canada where the unpredictable climate is a principle topic of daily conversation, not a mere conversational gambit. This is a country where the Weather Network is one of the most popular cable channels. We are left, therefore, with the choice of idle speculation or augury.

Right, augury it is. The Romans, who named the practice, would frequently predict events by analyzing the viscera of sacrificial animals. Two thousand years later, of course, we inhabit a more peaceful realm, and Canadian augurs do not eviscerate chickens or disembowel goats; they prod rodents.

Actually, the prodded rodent is one very particular specimen, an albino groundhog named Wiarton Willie. A subterranean resident of the eponymous town some three hours northwest of Toronto, young Willie is roused from hibernation on the second day of each February, brought to the surface, and made to cast his bleary eyes on the winter's day about him. The legend maintains that if Willie spies his shadow, he will be frightened back into his hole and a further six weeks of winter will ensue; while if he does not see his shadow, an early spring is forthcoming. Admittedly, this is not a legend that withstands much scientific or even logical scrutiny. In much of Canada, a mere six additional weeks of winter would mean an early spring.

At this point, some may wish to point out the claim of a certain American groundhog. Americans may choose to follow this southern varmint, but you cannot seriously expect Canadians to accept a prediction concerning winter from a rodent that lives in a country that exports pineapples.

I am writing this immediately following Groundhog Day, and I have wonderful news for the credulous; Willie's acolytes have informed us that Willie did not see his shadow. Spring is right around the corner, if the four-footed, pink-eyed seer is to be believed. On hearing the news, Canadians across the land cheered, donned parkas and mukluks, and headed out to their woodsheds to retrieve their beach umbrellas.

But is Willie to be believed? Sadly, the cult of Wiarton Willie is not without its rumors of scandal, and there is one documented case of downright skulduggery. This occurred several years ago, marking the sad end of the reign of the previous incumbent of the title. On the Groundhog Day in question, Willie's handlers opened his hole to prepare him for the day's festivities. The aroma emanating from a burrow that has been occupied for several uninterrupted months by a large, hibernating rodent will not be particularly salubrious at the best of times. On the fateful day in question, however, the revolting stench that attended the ceremonial uncorking of the den left little doubt that the late Willie's prognosticating days were over.

A hurried conference of the late seer's entourage took place. After rejecting a scheme that would have involved the services of a taxidermist and a hydraulic engineer, the handlers settled on a simple ruse. An ordinary and utterly unprincipled brown groundhog was lured from its burrow, dipped briefly in a bucket of white paint, and presented to the world's press. Unfortunately for them, the plotters forgot that albino animals have pink eyes. One of the journalists in attendance spotted the ocular anomaly, and the jig was up. Eventually, a legitimate albino heir was located and was administered the oath of office, an office he has executed honorably ever since.

Nonetheless, there is a cruel irony in the enlistment of a groundhog as the harbinger of spring. Spring is the cruelest season for groundhogs, when they stagger dazed and hungry out of their burrows to engage in their two principal and equally dangerous vocations. First, its habit of digging large holes in fields makes it a much-hunted agricultural pest. Then, when not dodging farmers' bullets, it has a penchant for dodging traffic. Sadly, with its poor eyesight and lumbering gait, it is ill equipped for the latter sport. The groundhog is the most common road-kill carcass in the mainland provinces.

In Toronto, it must be confessed that we don't pay a lot of attention to groundhogs. Our particular varmint de ville is the raccoon, and it is too busy prying open trash cans and invading attics to waste any time on spurious meteorological predictions. Besides, as most of our compatriots are happy to remind us, Toronto can barely claim to experience real Canadian winters. Many Canadian cities take a perverse pride in the severity of their winters: Ottawa constantly vies with Moscow for the title of the world's coldest capital, cities on the Prairies often experience Arctic temperatures, and the winter winds howling down Winnipeg's main street are reputed to be the coldest in the country.

It is with some shame that I must admit that Toronto's weather is comparatively tame. We have experienced a number of days this January and February with temperatures well above freezing. We have only had to shovel our walks a few times, and Torontonians can often venture outside in these months without winter boots. Hard-core cyclists have been able to ride their bicycles to work for much of the season, and such commuters (including your humble servant) are generally considered to be more eccentric than heroic.

The roads, sidewalks, and bicycle paths will become clearer in March and, barring any vengeful swipes from winter's retreating tail, spring should be very much in the air by the time you arrive. With any luck, we should have pleasant (not too bracing) weather for walks to theatres, restaurants, and the construction site of the new opera house, and the tour of the Distillery District.

That being said, March is the most unpredictable month of the year, so light layers of clothing are a good approach. Come prepared for sunshine or snow or rain, but we can pretty well guarantee that you will not be disturbed by hurricanes, tornadoes, or a heat wave.

Those serious about their weather watching should click here for a comprehensive weather discussion, including Celsius to Fahrenheit conversions.

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The weather in Toronto promises to be as exciting as the sessions and exhibitions (just a bit less predictable). Even with the help of weather varmints, Toronto residents warn that variety is the only thing that is certain.