When we hear the name Winnie the Pooh, the image that comes to mind is the golden yellow bear with a red shirt who loves honey. Unbeknownst to many, Winnie the Pooh is inspired by a real black bear from Ontario, Canada. In celebration of Winnie the Pooh Day, let’s backtrack and learn about the history of Winnie.
Winnie, short for Winnipeg, was a black bear who was born in Ontario, Canada in 1914. When she was still a cub, she was bought by Lt. Harry Colebourn for $20 from a hunter and brought to Britain to serve as an official mascot for the Canadian cavalry regiment. Lt. Colebourn served as the military’s veterinarian and closely worked with the bear. Since Colebourn was from Winnipeg in Manitoba, he decided to name the little black bear Winnipeg.
After the First World War, Colebourn wanted to bring Winnie to a zoo in Winnipeg but decided later on to let her stay and reside at the London Zoo, where a lot of people loved to visit her – Christopher Robin Milne being one of them. According to the zoo staff, Winnie was the most popular animal there and she had a reputation of being gentle.
On one occasion, Christopher Robin’s father, playwright A.A. Milne, asked his neighbour if his son could join them on their next trip to the London Zoo. This was Christopher Robin’s first visit to the zoo and the sight of a polar bear scared him. The next visit to the zoo was probably more successful. A.A. Milne told his neighbour of Christopher Robin’s interest in a black bear that he saw at the zoo. This inspired A.A. Milne to compose a few poems about his son’s successful zoo trip. Shortly after, the playwright decided to create more poems about his son and the bear.
Winnipeg died at the age of 20 in 1934. Since she was a very popular bear, the London newspaper printed her obituary. A statue of Winnipeg and Lt. Colebourn was erected in Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg in her memory. Every year, people around the world celebrate Winnie the Pooh Day on the same day as the birthday of creator A.A. Milne – January 18.