Soldier adopted bear that inspired Winnie-the-Pooh 100 years ago
Ben Miljure, CTV Winnipeg
Published Sunday, August 24, 2014 5:19PM CST
Last Updated Sunday, August 24, 2014 5:26PM CST
A Canadian soldier traveling by train to join a Winnipeg regiment in Europe during the First World War 100 years ago bought an orphaned bear cub on a whim.
The ensuing story has captured imaginations around the world for generations and now that the Lt. Harry Colebourn’s family is helping celebrate the occasion with a new exhibit.
“It’s a really lovely story with kind of a neat beginning because he was a veterinarian and loved animals,” said granddaughter Brenda Colebourn.
Harry Colebourn named his bear Winnie, after his hometown of Winnipeg.
Afraid to take the bear to the front lines, he found a home for Winnie in the London Zoo where she amused visitors for 20 years and inspired the Winnie-the-Pooh books by A.A. Milne.
A statue of Harry and Winnie stands in Assiniboine Park and on Sunday, August 24, the 100th anniversary of the fateful day the man and the bear first met, families with young children came to celebrate.
One group even sang Happy Birthday to the bear.
Colebourn’s great-granddaughter Lindsay Mattick remembers the day that statue was unveiled and now looks forward to a new exhibit honouring Harry and Winnie that will open in November at Toronto’s Ryerson University.
"People who come to the exhibition will have the chance to see things like Harry's actual diary from 1914 where he made notation of her, buying the bear, taking her to the London Zoo,” said Mattick.
The exhibit will also include an online portion accessible anywhere in the world.
Colebourn’s family hopes that after the physical portion of the exhibit is finished being displayed at Ryerson it can tour to other cities, possibly even Winnipeg.
Brenda Colebourn recently re-discovered an old photo of Harry and Winnie where Harry is wearing a formal civilian suit and clutching the bear’s paw.
She thinks it might be from the ceremony where Harry donated the bear to the London Zoo or perhaps the last time the man and bear saw each other before Harry returned to Canada.
"It's kind of as A.A. Milne's House at Pooh Corner, the final line in it, 'Somewhere, a boy and his bear will always be playing,' seems to ring true here,” she said.
Winnie passed away at the London Zoo in 1934. Harry Colebourn lived in Winnipeg and worked as a veterinarian until his death in 1947.