Winnie-the-Pooh. When that name comes across or when you see the beloved bear, the first thing that comes to mind is Disney. But the original story didn't start with Walt Disney.
The Real Winnie
The story begins over 80 years ago in the northern town of White River, Ontario when a young black bear cub suddenly became an orphan. A man by the name of Harry Colebourn was travelling across Canada to embark on overseas duty in the First World War in England. He purchased the little black bear cub from the trapper who had come across the orphaned cub. Lieutenant Colebourn named the bear from his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and she would become an unofficial mascot of The Fort Garry Horse, a Militia cavalry regiment. Winnie would sleep under Colebourn's cot.
In 1914, the now Captain Harry Colebourn learned he would be shipped to France. He decided to settle Winnie into the London Zoo because she would not be able to go with him. She eventually became the fan-favourite attraction at the zoo. It is said that visitors would knock on her door and she would come out to greet them. She even let children ride on her back and eat out of their hands! Captain Colebourn would visit Winnie during his leave. Because of her popularity with visitors and children, he decided he could not take her back to Canada. Winnie was officially donated to the London Zoo on December 1, 1918.
Winnie Meets Christopher Robin
The little bear captured the hearts of many visitors to the zoo, one in particular named Christopher Robin Milne. Christopher Robin and his father, writer A.A. Milne would come and visit Winnie frequently. Christoper Robin was the one who added "Pooh" to her name, after a swan they met on a previous holiday. Christopher Robin received a teddy bear on his first birthday on August 21, 1921. The original name was Edward Bear but it was not long before Christopher Robin changed the bear's name to "Winnie-the-Pooh" after his favourite loveable bear from London Zoo.
"But his arms were so stiff ... they stayed up straight in the air for more than a week, and whenever a fly came and settled on his nose he had to blow it off. And I think—but I am not sure—that that is why he is always called Pooh." - A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
After seeing so much joy that this little bear was brought to many people, especially his son Christopher Robin, A.A. Milne started to write children's books based on the bear "Winnie-the-Pooh" from the London Zoo.
May 12, 1934, was a sad day for many people. After 20 years of a long, full life in the zoo, Winnie passed away. She was loved by so many people and brought a lot of happiness to them.
"If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you." - A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Winnie-the-Pooh and Disney, too
In 1961, Walt Disney purchased the copyright to "Winnie-the-Pooh". The Disney Company commissioned a special set of 4 stamps and introduced them to Canada Post in 1996. The stamps featured the Winnie-the-Pooh beginnings, the little Canadian Black Bear, Captain Colebourn, the meeting between Winnie and Christopher Robin.
The real-life bear and the character Winnie-the-Pooh share some similar traits but there are also differences between them:
Celebrate Winnie and the Captain
Since it is the birthplace of Winnie-the-Pooh, White River celebrates Winnie each year with a festival in the bear's honour with the Winnie's Hometown Festival held each year. The festival presents a new theme every year and includes a parade, games, competitions and so much more!
Winnie's Hometown Festival - 3rd weekend in August
For a complete schedule of events visit Winnie's Hometown Festival Website
Kids (3 - 18) Weekend Passes are available: includes Funland, Bear-a-Fair, Live Entertainment and Block Party
Some of the events include Teddy Bear Workshop, Historical Re-enactment when Captain Coleburn purchased Winnie, Teddy Bear Picnic, Classic Car Show, Winnie-the-Pooh Parade and so much more!
For more information about the Winnie-the-Pooh Festival visit the website or phone the White River Tourist Information Centre at (807) 822-2794.
Winnie in White River, Ontario
Have your photo taken at the Winnie-the-Pooh Statue in the Park next door to the Tourist Information Centre. Fans of Winnie, young and old, have had their photos taken there!
Visit the White River Heritage Museum to see the collection of Winnie memorabilia! This is definitely a must-see: the museum is home to the "Lisa Yee Collection" from Orlando, Florida. Buy your own Winnie items in the gift shop for a commemorative mug, plush characters, Royal Doulton figurines and so much more.