Harry Colebourn & Winnipeg The Bear

Question: Was Winnie the Pooh a real teddy bear?
Answer: Yes. He belonged to Christopher Robin Milne, son of writer and poet A. A. (Alan Alexander) Milne. And his name came from the black bear young Christopher used to like to visit at London Zoo. Orphaned as a cub, the bear had been rescued by a veterinary officer serving with Canadian troops in WW I. Captain Harry Colebourn bought her from a trapper in White River, Ontario while en route to Val Cartier, Quebec. (His entry for that day, August 24th, 1914, was: “Left Port Arthur 7 a.m. In train all day. Bought bear $20.”) Captain Colbourn named her for his home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba, but called her Winnie for short. Easily tamed, Winnie quickly became the mascot of his regiment (the Canadian Veterinary Corps), and went with her friends when they were posted to Salisbury Plain in England. When the time came for the regiment to be deployed to France, however, Captain Colebourn was not willing to put his pet at risk, and got London Zoo to look after her for him. Back then, zoo-goers were able to get up close and personal with some of the tamer animals, so children got to actually pet and play with Winnie, who, now missing her soldier buddies, loved the attention. Though Captain Colebourn intended to take her back to Canada with him after the war, he later decided she was better off where she was. Had he not, the world would never have known Winnie The Pooh, since Christopher Robin Milne, who was born in 1920, did not meet her until 1924.

Christopher Robin Milne & Winnie

If you’re in the neighbourhood of Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, its Winnie the Bear exhibit features Colebourn’s diaries, letters, and photos, and will be running until December 7th.
There’s also an interactive website at



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