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Winnie-the-Pooh: The Forgotten Connection

Special thanks to CBC Radio for an interview that resurrected this little known story about the origins of Winnie-the-Pooh. Here’s a summary.

 winnie 

Winnie-the-Pooh was born in Canada! Well, sort of.

It all began in 1914. The First World War was underway in Europe. The Canadian Army was in desperate need of trained personnel to care for the thousands of horses used by the cavalry.

A young veterinarian in Winnipeg heeded the call.

Harry Colebourn soon found himself on a train with scores of other young men destined for the army base in Val Cartier, Quebec. A few hours into their journey the train stopped in White River, Ont., to take on water and coal for the steam engine. Like many other soldiers, Harry stepped off the train to stretch his legs.

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Standing beside the tracks was a man who turned out to be a trapper. He was holding a tiny black bear cub, only a few days old. He had trapped and killed its mother. Harry loved animals of every kind. He offered the trapper $20 for the cub. That was a handsome amount in 1914. They made a deal.

Harry took the cub on board the train. He named her Winnipeg, but soon shortened it to Winnie. Harry could not have known that in a few years she would become the namesake for the most famous bear in the world.

During their time in Val Cartier, Harry fed her at first with a baby bottle, he played with her, and he took her with him wherever he could. Winnie slept under Harry’s cot in their troop tent.

harry-winnie

Soon, Winnie became the mascot for Harry’s regiment, the famous Fort Gary Horse (Winnipeg) Regiment.

After basic training in Val Cartier, the troops boarded the S.S. Manitou to England. Capt. Harry somehow snuck Winnie along with him on the ship.

Harry and his regiment trained on the Salisbury Plains of England for about four months. Then came the day when his regiment was ordered to the front lines in France. He was told Winnie could not accompany him.  

Harry made a deal with the London Zoo to look after Winnie until his return. He made a note of it in his diary dated Dec. 9, 1914. Legend has it that Harry drove Winnie from the Salisbury Plains to London with a car he borrowed and somehow got the near-adult sized Winnie to ride in.

During the years that followed, Harry visited Winnie every time he got leave. He planned to take Winnie home with him to Winnipeg after the war. That was not to be. Harry returned home to Winnipeg in 1924, alone. We’re not sure why.

ldn-zoo

We do know that during those years at the zoo, Winnie became something of a celebrity. Her gentle nature and fondness for people earned her a special enclosure. There, Winnie enjoyed doing tricks for visitors. Children and adults were allowed to play with her. She even gave them rides on her back.

 A zookeeper at the time said Winnie was the only bear they ever had that they fully trusted.

One of Winnie’s visitors was a young boy who stopped often at the zoo with his father. The boy’s name was Christopher Robin Milne. His father was a writer whose work at the time was gaining prominence. His name: Alan Alexander Milne, better known as A. A. Milne.

 As it happened, Christopher Robin had a stuffed bear at home along with a collection of other stuffed animals, all with names except his stuffed bear. He had been unable to settle on a name. After his visit to the zoo, he named it Winnie.

 In an interview last fall, Harry’s great granddaughter, Lindsay Mattick of Toronto, told Anna Marie Trimonti of CBC Radio that Christopher Robin would bundle up Winnie along with his other stuffed animals and take them for adventures in the woods near their home.

Those adventures inspired his father to create Winnie-the-Pooh and the fictional Christopher Robin, as well as Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet and the host of other critter-characters that A.A. Milne made famous.  

winnie-grouping

The first Winnie-the-Pooh book was published in 1926, ninety years ago. Winnie has since become the most famous bear in the world. 

As the well-known radio commentator Paul Harvey used to say, “And now you have the rest of the story”.

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“Winnie-the-Pooh: The Forgotten Connection” is Copyright © 2016 by James Osborne. All Rights Reserved

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Source Credits: 1. CBC Radio, interview of Lindsay Mattick by Anna Marie Trimonti, carried on Michael Enright’s radio show “Rewind”, Oct. 24, 2016 ; 2. Lindsay Mattick is the great granddaughter of Capt. Harry Colebourn and the author of “Finding Winnie”, a book celebrating the 90th anniversary of Winnie-the-Pooh; 3. Earlier interviews on CBC Radio of Ann Thwaite, author of a biography of Winnie, “The Brilliant Career of Winnie-the-Pooh”, by Peter Gzowski, Barbara Frumm and by Eleanor Wachtel, which were incorporated in Michael Enright’s program, “Rewind”.

Image Credits: 1. Winnie – disney.co.jp; 2. Harry & Winnie, Ryerson Image Centre (ryerson.ca/ric); 3. Steam Engine – http://news.softpedia.com; 4. London Zoo – http://www.weblo.com; 5. Winne & friends group – pcwallart.com; 

61 comments on “Winnie-the-Pooh: The Forgotten Connection

  1. olganm
    October 29, 2016

    It’s a sweet story. Thanks, James.

  2. First Night Design
    October 29, 2016

    This should not be so little known!

    • James Osborne
      October 29, 2016

      Thanks so much for your comment. Much appreciated, and you are so right!

  3. jenowenby
    October 29, 2016

    I had no idea! Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. I love Winnie the Pooh!

    • James Osborne
      October 29, 2016

      Hi Jen I’m so glad the story pleased you. Yeah, he’s still a popular fellow even at 90!

  4. amo
    October 29, 2016

    I knew that. 🙂 Actually, I didn’t know all the specific details, but that Winnie-the-Pooh was ultimately named after Winnipeg because of a bear. But then, I’m a big Winnie-the-Pooh fan. He’s so eminently quoteable, the Bear of Very Little Brain (who always has the best ideas).

    • James Osborne
      October 29, 2016

      I’m so glad the story filled in a few gaps for you!

  5. Pingback: Winnie-the-Pooh: The Forgotten Connection | jamesosbornenovels | First Night Design

  6. Marje @ Kyrosmagica
    November 3, 2016

    Reblogged this on K Y R O S M A G I C A and commented:
    Very interesting post from james Osborne about the origins of Winnie the Pooh, if you are a fan then read on….

    • James Osborne
      November 3, 2016

      Hi Marie
      Thanks for reblogging. Happy to see this happy story shared widely. Cheers!

      • Marje @ Kyrosmagica
        November 3, 2016

        Thanks James, so glad to find it and your blog too. Cheers to you too. Marje

  7. I wish I knew this when my oldest son was a child. He is now forty five. I purchased a large stuffed Winnie for him when he was about two years old. He loved Winnie and at first dragged him everywhere. As he grew he was able to carry Winnie. When he was about thirteen Winnie sat in a corner, thread bare and tired looking. We were moving and I discarded the old stuffed toys. One day after the move was complete and everything was in place my son now going on fourteen came to me and asked where was his bear. I told him I had given it to Good Will since he had not showed any interest in Winnie in years. He got so upset with me I couldn’t believe it. I had not realized what that bear meant to him. I did apologize which he accepted verbally but I don’t think he ever really forgave me. The reason I say this is because he will still mention the story every now and again. I think he still misses his favorite bear even at the age of forty five. :o)

    • James Osborne
      November 3, 2016

      Thanks you so much for sharing that story! You both have wonderful memories of Winnie. And yes, Winnie seems to have a way of working his/her way into and staying in our hearts, even at 90 years old.

  8. The Story Reading Ape
    November 3, 2016
  9. Darlene
    November 3, 2016

    Have always loved this Canadian connection to such a well loved bear. Thanks for sharing it with the blogging world.

  10. ellenbest24
    November 3, 2016

    A lovely reminder of pooh’s history. My husband calls me pooh and I hope he means I am lovely, friendly and cuddly… and not the other ki d *holds nose* 😉

    • James Osborne
      November 3, 2016

      Most certainly the former and most definitely not the latter.

      • ellenbest24
        November 3, 2016

        Haha! We live in hope 😇

  11. wendyunsworth
    November 3, 2016

    A charming story! And what a lovely man to ‘rescue’ Winnie at such huge expense. I expect the cost and logistics of getting him back to Winnipeg were just too much, even for such an animal lover.

  12. Covert Novelist
    November 3, 2016

    I’ve always loved Winnie the Poo. Even my grands grew up with him and embarassed my daughter when going through the store and finding him, yelled proudly at the top of their lungs, “Poo, I want Poo!” Poo bear of course, is there any other? Thank you for the update. I’d read and forgotten his origins. Delightful.

    • James Osborne
      November 3, 2016

      It is such a delight to bring pleasure to others with stories like this. Thank you for your story and for your comments.

      • Covert Novelist
        November 3, 2016

        Your welcome. I have loved Winnie forever. Thought you might enjoy the little snippet of pleasure he’s brought so many of us.

  13. Tofino Photography
    November 3, 2016

    Harry was born in England & moved over to Canada when he was 18.
    When he talked to the old prospector in White river about Winnie,the prospector revealed that he had not only shot Winnie’s mother but that Winnie also had a brother/sister.He didn’t have the heart to shoot the other cub & so it ran away. Cubs have a high mortality once the mother is gone.
    Winnie was an Ontario bear with a name from Manitoba.

    • James Osborne
      November 3, 2016

      Hey, thanks for the additional information! Much appreciated.

  14. Let's CUT the Crap!
    November 3, 2016

    Wonderful story. I’ve heard parts of it before, but glad to know the rest. Heartwarming. ❤ ❤

  15. joanfrankham
    November 3, 2016

    Reblogged this on Retirement and beyond and commented:
    Lovely story about the origins of the original Winnie.

  16. Bette A. Stevens
    November 3, 2016

    Hi, James. Thanks so much for sharing Winnie & A.A. Milnes fabulous story. I’m sharing too… 🙂

    • James Osborne
      November 3, 2016

      Hi Bette. I’m so pleased you enjoyed it, and thanks very much for reblogging.

  17. Andy McKell
    November 4, 2016

    A fascinating history. Who’d have guessed that Winnie was a colonial 😉

  18. Matthew Wright
    November 4, 2016

    Very cool story! I was totally brought up on Winnie the Pooh, as a kid – the original Milne stories, of course. The name vagaries actually enter into the first of the stories, as I recall.

    • James Osborne
      November 4, 2016

      Thanks for your feedback Matthew. It’s amazing what a pervasive impact Winnie has had on numerous generations in his 90 years… so far.

  19. Christy B
    November 4, 2016

    This is such a great story! I had not idea and always loved Winnie the Pooh. Awww!

    • James Osborne
      November 4, 2016

      Why thank you Christy. What a nice thing to say. One of the great rewards of being a writer is stumbling upon stories like these, and being able to share them and bring pleasure to nice readers like you. Thanks again.

  20. writerchristophfischer
    November 6, 2016

    Reblogged this on writerchristophfischer and commented:
    Something sweet for Sunday

  21. Pingback: Winnie-the-Pooh: The Forgotten Connection | Love, Laughter, and Life

  22. noelleg44
    November 7, 2016

    What a lovely story – something I never knew, although I am a great fan of Pooh. Mmm,rhymes! I get that way when I read Milne. Whatever happened to the real Winnie? Thanks for this!

    • James Osborne
      November 7, 2016

      Thank you so much. Comments like yours makes it all worthwhile! Cheers

  23. fantasticpencils
    November 11, 2016

    Reblogged this on fantasticpencils.

    • James Osborne
      November 20, 2016

      Many thanks for reblogging… and sharing the fun!

  24. noelleg44
    November 20, 2016

    Re-blogged this on saylingaway.wordpress.com
    Hope this is okay!

    • James Osborne
      November 20, 2016

      Absolutely. Thanks for spreading Pooh’s happiness!

  25. Pingback: Do You Know Where Winnie the Pooh Came From? – SaylingAway

  26. Eric Klingenberg
    November 20, 2016

    Thanks I enjoyed reading that. I grew up on the stories. I always sympathized with Eeyore, I think I might have grown up to become him.

    • James Osborne
      November 21, 2016

      Many thanks, Eric. I suspect most of us were able to identify with one of the characters. That was AA Milne’s genius.

  27. elizabethcalwell
    November 21, 2016

    That is such a great story. Thanks for sharing. I love Winnie-the-Pooh.

    • James Osborne
      November 21, 2016

      Thank you so much for your comments, Elizabeth. A writes greatest reward is the pleasure their stories bring to others.

      • noelleg44
        November 21, 2016

        Lots of likes! Keep the good tales coming!

  28. Annette Rochelle Aben
    November 21, 2016

    LOVE! love love this! And I have such a soft spot in my heart for black bears anyway… Winnie the Pooh has always made me smile… much like this story. Thank you so much

    • James Osborne
      November 21, 2016

      You made my day with your wonderful comments! Thank you! As I’m sure you know, a writer’s greatest reward is bringing pleasure to others with their stories.

  29. Don Bennett
    November 27, 2016

    Thanks for sharing the story of Winnie ! I hope you don’t mind that I shared this on Facebook !

    • James Osborne
      November 27, 2016

      Hi Don. Thanks for your feedback. I’m delighted that you shared the story. Winnie has brought such joy into so many lives, it’s a pleasure to bring back memories and you helped that along. Cheers

  30. floddle
    March 5, 2017

    Wow that’s so cool! Thanks for making me fall even more in love with everything to do with Winnie the Pooh

    • James Osborne
      March 5, 2017

      Thank you! I’m so pleased you enjoyed the story and that it brought back such warm memories for you. I did my job! 🙂

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