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The White Squirrels of Exeter

Posted by Roger Cullman / October 18, 2009

White Squirrels in Toronto and ExeterWhite squirrels do exist. But only rarely in Toronto. You're one of the lucky few if you've caught a glimpse of the white squirrel of Trinity-Bellwoods Park in Toronto's west end. In spite of my best intentions, I have yet to see one.

Megan at the White Squirrel Cafe across from Trinity-Bellwoods Park says white squirrels sightings are most likely around 7 a.m. near the corner of Shaw and Dundas St. W. Last week she saw two white squirrels together. There may even be a third white squirrel in the park.

Unsatisfied with my chance encounters with an albino squirrel in Toronto, I took a day trip to Exeter, Ont. where white squirrels are not only the town's mascot (Willis The White Wonder), they're there in abundance. Or so I thought.

White Squirrels in Toronto and ExeterIt's just over 200 km from Trinity-Bellwoods Park to McNaughton Park in Exeter, where they're said to roam. Not the only place to claim to be "Home of the white squirrel," Exeter decorates the lampposts, garbage cans and retail stores of their Main Street with the image of the white squirrel. They even host a white squirrel festival once a year.

White Squirrels in Toronto and Exeter

White Squirrels in Toronto and ExeterThe origins of Toronto's white squirrel(s) remain a mystery. One theory is that a white squirrel hitchhiked on the back of a truck in Exeter, bound for Toronto. But that doesn't account for the difference in type of white squirrel. The white squirrels in Trinity-Bellwoods have red eyes, making them albino squirrels.

White Squirrels in Toronto and ExeterThe white squirrels in Exeter aren't albinos. Thought to be a genetic mutation from centuries ago, they frolic in the backyards and parks alongside their grey and black brethren. Technically, they're all Eastern Grey Squirrels, but due to a different amount of melanin, the squirrels that predominate Toronto, and most of Ontario, appear black.

White Squirrels in Toronto and ExeterAfter about an hour of stealthily hunting the cute, furry creatures in vain, I took a pee break at the Esso station. I quickly whipped out my camera just in time to catch a glimpse of one awfully agile white squirrel darting across the fence across the street.

White Squirrels in Toronto and ExeterI followed the white squirrel with my telephoto lens, hoping to get a closer glimpse but it was gone. Moments later it reappeared on the front porch of a nearby house. Before long I spotted another white squirrel nearby, appearing to kiss the tree it was climbing.

White Squirrels in Toronto and ExeterI hung out by this house at the corner of Simcoe St. for several minutes, stalking the little white wonders. Turns out they get along just fine with the black and grey squirrels of Exeter. Can you spot all three in the photo above?

White Squirrels in Toronto and ExeterNot content with this happenstance, I ventured further afield into the Ausable Bayfield Conservation area, starting at McNaughton Park, where white squirrels are said to roam free.

White Squirrels in Toronto and Exeter

It takes a lot of patience and stealth to capture white squirrels in their natural habitat. They're not as prevalent as the black squirrels in say, Toronto's High Park. Eventually I found one munching on a cob of corn from the adjacent corn field.

White Squirrels in Toronto and ExeterA little further down the path, a startled white squirrel leaped in front of me and scurried up a tree, where I caught a glimpse of its bushy, white tail.

I counted six white squirrels throughout my afternoon jaunt in Exeter. It was well worth the two-and-a-half hour drive to see more of these rare squirrels frolicking about. It made for a fun little autumn road trip.

White Squirrels in Toronto and ExeterDo you have a white squirrel sighting you'd like to share? Have you seen a white squirrel outside of Trinity-Bellwoods Park in Toronto?

Photos by Roger Cullman.

Discussion

68 Comments

Oileanach / October 18, 2009 at 12:14 pm
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Thanks for this, lovely shots, especially the 2nd last one in the tree - I wish I wasn't inside working all day!
Michael / October 18, 2009 at 12:21 pm
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White != albino
Zed / October 18, 2009 at 12:25 pm
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Awesome story and great pix. Yes I spotted all 3.
Sounds like a great road trip.
L / October 18, 2009 at 12:32 pm
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So cute! Great photos! I love squirrel's little hands. I've seen a white squirrel in Trinity Bellwoods a few times. Didn't realize there were more than one living there. Will be looking out for them!

M / October 18, 2009 at 01:08 pm
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One lives on top of the building next to 901 Queen Street West. I watch it come down every day into my yard and dig up my bulbs and dirt in my pots. Personally, I wish he'd go to the park and hang out with his brethrens. Dirty and annoying oversized rats imo. There are definitely more than a few of these around, i've seen them in the park as well and climbing a fence at Shaw and Dundas.
Roger replying to a comment from Michael / October 18, 2009 at 01:31 pm
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White does not always = albino. See <a href="http://www.whitesquirrelinstitute.whitesquirrelfestival.com/whitesquirrels.htm"; target="_blank">the link</a> I provided in the story.
lala replying to a comment from Roger / October 18, 2009 at 02:54 pm
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I saw one at Woodbine Subway Station!
Cam Roberts / October 18, 2009 at 02:56 pm
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A few years ago I spotted one of the Trinity Bellwoods albino squirrels in the courtyard of my building at 800 Richmond St. W. At first I thought it must be somebodies escaped pet rodent and the way it moved seemed peculiar, but as I watched it longer I realized it was just acting like a squirrel.

I was never really sure where it had come from, but a couple of years later the white squirrel coffe shop opened up and I realized there is a family of them in the park.
Nick W / October 18, 2009 at 03:03 pm
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There are many more than three squirrels. Here is my only sighting:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tapesonthefloor/3126221969/
Snall / October 18, 2009 at 03:31 pm
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I'm pretty sure these are just really smart rats.
Annie / October 18, 2009 at 03:39 pm
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My friend's granddad lives in Grand Bend, close to Exeter. He loves the white squirrels so much, that he often goes to Exeter and traps the white squirrels. He then brings the squirrels back to Grand Bend and lets them loose in his backyard.

So, if you see white squirrels in Grand Bend, you can blame/thank him.
Roger replying to a comment from Annie / October 18, 2009 at 03:41 pm
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Well that would explain why there aren't as many white squirrels in Exeter anymore. How often has he done this?
Roger replying to a comment from M / October 18, 2009 at 04:04 pm
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I don't find squirrels to be dirty and annoying oversized rats. While they are classified as rodents, they're much less likely to get rabies. And they're much cuter with their fluffy tails.
Paul / October 18, 2009 at 04:54 pm
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There are white squirrels outside Ontario too. Here's a website (found using Google) that lists not one but four different communities in the US that celebrate their white squirrels in addition to Exeter Ontario: http://www.roadsideamerica.com/set/squirrels.html

Apparently some of the communities are annoyed by the others' mere existence. (As if that matters!)
Roger replying to a comment from Paul / October 18, 2009 at 05:02 pm
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Yep, that's the same link I provided under my second photo in this story. ;)

I find it kind of boastful and territorial that other communities claim to be the best white squirrel hangout.
Jason replying to a comment from Roger / October 18, 2009 at 05:03 pm
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Roger,

in mathematical parlance, "!=" means "does not equal". He was agreeing with you that white squirrels are not necessarily albino.
Roger replying to a comment from Jason / October 18, 2009 at 05:14 pm
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Oh, that makes sense now. I thought it was a typo. Isn't there a "does not equal" sign though?
Chris / October 18, 2009 at 06:25 pm
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I actually heard of one that is in Old Montreal.
Kate / October 18, 2009 at 06:33 pm
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They look like rats
P / October 18, 2009 at 07:33 pm
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The white squirrels in Montreal are really more "blond" than that.
bunnyhero replying to a comment from Roger / October 18, 2009 at 09:38 pm
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there is a do not equal symbol: ≠. but many programming languages use != for not equal :)
S / October 18, 2009 at 11:34 pm
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I wish I had an interesting white squirrel spotting to share - but all I have is a boring white squirrel spotting: I spotted a white squirrel several weeks ago in Trinity Bellwoods park. I reported to the White Squirrel cafe immediately, not knowing what else to do. They just gave me the ice cream I asked for.
squirrelologist / October 19, 2009 at 01:23 am
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So is this an evolutionary thing? Blend with the snow? Snow squirrel?

T / October 19, 2009 at 02:05 am
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Yeah, Exeter loves their white squirrels. In the 9th grade the retiring drama teacher wrote/directed a play, one of the characters being, none other than, the white squirrel.
Eva / October 19, 2009 at 12:10 pm
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In mice, there are some mutations that make their fur white but not the eyes. It's often something related to the formation of the tiny compartments in the skin cells where the pigment sits. In normal pigment-forming skin cells (melanocytes) the pigment is transported inside little cell compartments (melanosomes) which then distribute it through the skin, but in those mouse mutations the compartments are not properly formed, so there is no place to make/keep the melanin. It usually also affects some other organs, and they might have bleeding problems, for example, but you wouldn't be able to notice anything wrong with them from looking at them. They're just very light.
I wonder if the squirrels have a similar problem.
DGiles / October 19, 2009 at 02:00 pm
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I lived in Exeter for just over 10 years! Too bad the ones in the pictures are not in their top condition, they look ratty in the photos.. In the early fall they get nice and fat, when it's dry out their tails and coats are in much better condition. There was a White Squirrel Cafe in Exeter as well for a while.
Roger replying to a comment from DGiles / October 19, 2009 at 02:10 pm
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Their tails look this way because they were wet from the rain, hence the "ratty" look. Ever seen a wet dog? Fur has a way of changing its appearance when it gets wet. I kinda like the extra textured look. It's like they just got a perm. :)
daniel / October 19, 2009 at 06:08 pm
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I recently lived in a ground floor unit in the condo building that is on the south side of Queen St. W, directly across from Trinity Bellwoods Park.

The ground floor patio attached to my condo was used by an entire family of white/albino squirrels as a sort of safe passage way to and from the greenery of the park.

My cat and I would have a white/albino squirrel sighting almost daily. I enjoyed it, the cat did not - and expressed it with intimidating growling.
Emily / October 19, 2009 at 10:09 pm
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As many people have said, these squirrels are not albinos. If they were, they would have red/pink eyes.
Kau / October 20, 2009 at 07:07 am
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YES! the notorious albino squirrel of trinity.
Holidays from Exeter Airport / November 4, 2009 at 06:07 am
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I've never seen a White squirrel before, pretty cool
Aaron / November 11, 2009 at 12:14 am
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Cute pic of 'Joey' the Trinity Bellwoods White Squirrel here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dailysights/4093972121/
Roger replying to a comment from Aaron / November 11, 2009 at 01:13 am
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Thanks for sharing. But isn't his name Whitey McRedEyes?
Stefani / December 5, 2009 at 10:45 pm
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My first date with my husband (it was a blind date!), back when we were 17, we walked up Queen St and ended up sitting at Trinity Bellwoods for hours, talking! I found this on Stumbleupon; it must have been meant to be! We live in Edmonton now but next time we're home in Toronto, we are going to go back to Trinity Bellwoods to look for white squirrels!
Zed / December 6, 2009 at 03:17 am
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Great Comment Stefani!
E / December 22, 2009 at 09:58 pm
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In Exeter it is a by-law that trapping or killing our white squirrels is illegal. I'm glad you got to enjoy our squirrels. I think all squirrels are pretty cute. Though I have lived in Exeter my whole life, I have never been fast enough to get a picture of a white squirrel, lol.
Marcy / January 18, 2010 at 11:42 pm
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I've seen what I presume is the same white squirrel 3 times now while driving to work along Eglinton Avenue West near Islington.
David / April 12, 2010 at 08:56 am
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Hi Roger

I never new white squirrels existed, where I live, we have some red squirrels, but mostly grey squirrels.

Great post, thanks for that.

Cheers
David.
Chris Copp replying to a comment from Roger / August 20, 2010 at 11:41 am
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true....I think I read somewhere that the hair is in fact transparent and it is a light thing
Lorraine / September 3, 2010 at 02:38 pm
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I just read Marcy's comments about the white squirrel on Eglinton and I would also like to report that I saw a white squirrel on Eglinton on the North side of the street and have told lots of people. I do not think anyone believed me! Thanks Marcy and what a beautiful squirrel it was. I sited it in the late spring of 09 when the grass was really green.
Would love to see it again and I always look very carefully when in the area.
I call it "Eglinton".
Julie / October 6, 2010 at 09:42 am
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I just saw I white squirrel in my backyard. There is a small forest behind my fencne and it ran up a tree. I sat near the bottom of the tree to get another look at it and there it was sitting on the lowest branch looking down at me. I went in and got some peanuts and when I came back, it was still there just walking around in the forest. I threw some peanuts and it sat there eating them about 4 feet away from me. It looked like it wasn't very old.
This is the second time I've seen a white squirrel in Brampton, Ontario and hoping to see some more and possibly get a picture.
Sharon / October 26, 2010 at 01:58 am
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I'm SO happy to see photos here because as I was sitting in the car going East on Eglinton on the North side just before Islington & I saw a White Squirrel. I was SO excited, unfortunately I was in a hurry for an appointment and my husband could'nt stop. The squirrel was near other squirrels and the only difference in appearance apart from the obvious colour a 'dirty white' was the fact the tail was very bushy.
Sharon replying to a comment from Marcy / October 26, 2010 at 02:04 am
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I feel like an IDIOT but a happy one, I just read the comments and saw other people have seen the same white squirrel on the North Side of Eglinton where the open area is (before Islington)there are trees and then peoples garden fences - not sure if the open area is a little parkette. I'm just SO happy other people have seen it I thought my husband might not have believed me, I'm even happier I read the comments after I posted my first reply !
RickyB / October 28, 2010 at 08:56 pm
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I attended the 2010 Toronto Zombie Walk in Trinity Bellwoods Park on the 23rd of October... While covered in fake blood and shambling through the park like a zombie, I was greeted by a white squirrel..it sifted through leaves only feet from me..I took a short video of it to prove it was real to friends..the next day I see a short news blurb about how rare these white tree rats are! Now I feel lucky!!
shannon / October 28, 2010 at 09:32 pm
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sharon i seen the white squirrel in that same spot as well a few weeks back. Pretty neat to see it.
Sharon replying to a comment from shannon / October 29, 2010 at 01:02 am
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It was very COOL !! I'm so happy after I posted my sighting to read about other peoples sightings especially as they mentioned the white squirrel on Eglinton exactly where I saw it. Global or CTV have a trailer running a few times daily about the elusive white squirrel at Trinty Bell Woods and I just assumed it was only white squirrel- an anomaly, so when I saw one ON Eglinton I was so surprised. Going back with a camera but I'm sure it will not be around !
Linx / November 4, 2010 at 05:18 pm
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HI there! I guess I am one of the lucky ones because I did take a few photos of the white squirrel at Trinity Bellwoods Park!
Jerry replying to a comment from Annie / May 16, 2011 at 03:23 am
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Annie:

It's a real shame that your granddad feels the need to move squirrels to another environment. Squirrels are very social creatures, and removing one squirrel from a colony very likely means the death of it. Too bad that he probably thinks he's doing good.

Just terrible to read something like that.

Paul / June 22, 2011 at 09:06 am
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I just saw an albino squirrel in Toronto! Bloor/Islington area.
Generic P / June 25, 2011 at 08:50 am
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HOLY MOLY I think i just saw one in bloor Annex area outside my window! ITS MY BIRTHDAY and I cant think of a better present
Kelly / September 21, 2011 at 05:04 pm
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I just spotted a white squirrel in my backyard! I didn't even know they existed. We live in Bayshore Village, which is on Lake Simcoe!
chris vossen / November 2, 2011 at 01:59 pm
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I live in Clinton near exeter we have a small growing population of white squirels but not nearly the amount that Exeter has . when I drive through Exeter I like to drive one street over from main street today going both ways i saw 6 white squirrels I think 1 in ten in Exeter is white .I use to to work in Exeter I did not remember the numbers being so high are they mutating evolving to blend in with the snow every where because of large and long lasting winter storms due to global warming I also saw one siting on a sod pallet at craby joes and the sign changed to now open so i was the first to have a beer at the bar
Mike replying to a comment from Annie / January 18, 2012 at 12:52 pm
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Hi Annie - I'm directing a documentary on squirrels for The Nature of Things and I liked the story of your friend's grandad trapping white squirrels to bring them back to Grand Bend. How can we get in contact with your friend?

Thanks,

Mike Downie
416 575-6105
Linda Merle / June 18, 2012 at 07:06 pm
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I saw and took photos of a white squirrel on Father's Day in Lakeshore ,Ontario or Puce ,Ontario
Vaclav / July 21, 2012 at 01:44 pm
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I just saw a white squirrel in Trinity Bellwoods Park at the corner of Crowford & Queen St. West.
Lazzelle / August 6, 2012 at 11:21 am
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I had taken a trip to Exeter with my husband and kids to visit friends and I was amazed when I saw all of those beautiful white squirrels!!!
Cor replying to a comment from Michael / October 4, 2012 at 05:35 pm
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These squirrels are an actual bred of squirrel.They are not albino. (Toronto's may be as there are only two places in the world where white squirrels can survive). One is Exeter ON and the other is some place in the states.Hope this has been helpful.
Jessica replying to a comment from Michael / October 13, 2012 at 12:12 pm
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not necessarily
Jessica replying to a comment from Kate / October 13, 2012 at 12:20 pm
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It have been said that squirrels are rats with good PR (Public Relations).
Jessica replying to a comment from P / October 13, 2012 at 12:22 pm
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Blonds have more fun.
evan / October 13, 2012 at 01:46 pm
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I've seen the queen west guy near a little bit east of the park. At parc Lafontaine in Montreal though the little guy goes up to all the groups of people sitting around. Haven't seen that in bellwoods, but it was pretty neat there.
Gerry Bloom / January 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm
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We have both black & brown squirrels in our area (Palmer Rapids ON). Today I seen my first albino squirrel in over 50 years of trail walking.
Ross McEachern / February 10, 2013 at 12:25 pm
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We have Three squirrels that hang out together at our home in Brampton. There is a black one, a grey one and the white one. They are continually chasing one another across the back fence and up and down the trees. We have never feed them but I do not think there is a shortage of food. Having had to remove families that have gained access to my attic and taken every step known to man kind to keep them out of the bird feeders at the cottage I do not encourage them. This is the first year for the white one. Although I have seem white Squirrels before, but they are rare.
william brown / March 12, 2013 at 10:08 am
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Just seen a white squirrel in Windsor ( Riverside ) and have a pic
Antonio / October 4, 2013 at 06:33 pm
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So real yet so easy to forget, am I okay to repost
this on my own site together with some annotations?
Mo / October 6, 2013 at 09:31 am
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Just saw one yesterday in Oakwood Park Grand Bend. Took several photos and it had no red eyes so I knew was not albino. Thanks for all the info here. Guess our little guy or gal is a transplant from Exeter or Bayfield! Cool!
Cass / October 29, 2013 at 02:38 pm
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I just googled white squirrels and this is where I ended up. I have spotted one in a park near my home during dog walks and this morning I finally got a photo of it. I live in Pointe-Claire, Quebec and this is the first white squirrel I've ever seen! What an exciting day for me!
Ailsa / November 14, 2013 at 10:16 pm
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Finally saw one.....East York, near O'Connor and St Clair..Nov 13 2013. The eyes were a bit too pink so must be an albino.

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