The cover art for Winnie the Bear, M.A. Appleby's 2011 biography of the bear cub that inspired the world-famous fictional character. Dominion Street Publishing
One hundred years ago today a Canadian soldier adopted a black bear cub and named it after his adopted hometown of Winnipeg, launching the saga of Winnie the Pooh.
Lt. Harry Colebourn, a Canadian veterinarian and soldier with the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, came across the orphaned female bear cub on Aug. 24, 1914.
"It's such a fascinating story to me that something from such a different, ancient time and far away is so directly connected to this city of ours," said Mary Anne Appleby, a Winnipeg author who penned the 2011 biography Winnie the Bear.
As the story goes, when Colebourn's troop train stopped in White River, Ont., he met a hunter who had shot and killed the bear cub's mother, without whom the cub was almost certain to die.
Colebourn offered the hunter $20 for the cub, whom he named Winnipeg Bear to commemorate the city where he had lived before the war. The name was soon shortened to Winnie.
Winnie accompanied Colebourn to England, where the cub played with Canadian soldiers during their off-hours in their encampment on the Salisbury Plains.
Colebourn later donated Winnie to the London Zoo, where the bear inspired the creation of A.A. Milne's famous children's book character. Winnie died at the zoo in 1934.
The Winnie the Pooh story endures a century later. A survey in the United Kingdom named Milne's book the most beloved children's book of the past 150 years, while the "silly old bear" came in second to Anne of Green Gables' Anne Shirley in CBC Books' Great Canadian Character Showdown.
Appleby, whose father was a close friend of Colebourn's son, says this weekend is a time to celebrate a wee bear that has become a household name.
"I just want to try and get this story out there as much as I can because I think, you know, in Winnipeg we're quite familiar with it. The rest of Canada doesn't know it as well," she said.
Appleby said in conducting her research, she came across a rare short video of Winnie eating an orange at the London Zoo.
Winnie's Winnipeg connection
Margaret Saull, assistant manager at McNally Robinson bookstore in Winnipeg, recounted her own personal childhood connection to the Winnie the Pooh series and poems.
"When I was a child we had an LP record," said Saull. "It was like an audio book but it was an LP and we used to listen and mine was the story with the heffalumps — the horrible heffalumps — and that was my favourite story as a child.
“We used to listen to that over and over and I was read the books as a child by my father.”
Many people who visit Winnipeg seek out Winnie the Pooh books as souvenirs, Saull said, but as of yet no one has written a book about Pooh's connection to Winnipeg.
Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park is home to the Pooh Gallery, which houses a permanent collection of Winnie the Pooh artifacts and memorabilia.
Featured prominently in the gallery is the painting Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Pot by E.H. Shepard, the original illustrator of Milne's series.
Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, viewed the painting during their visit to Winnipeg in May.
A bronze statue of Colebourn and Winnie is located at the park's Nature Playground.
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