Today I took my friend and former Hong Kong teaching colleague Rebekah to visit Assiniboine Park. We stopped to look at this statue of an army officer and a bear cub. The cub was the inspiration for the literary character Winnie the Pooh. I thought everyone knew that Winnie the Pooh had a connection to Winnipeg but Rebekah, who is from Minneapolis wasn’t sure she did; so I decided a blog post about it might be a good idea.
Harry Coleburn was born in England in 1887 and immigrated to Canada at age 18. After graduating as a veterinarian from a Ontario college he moved to Winnipeg. He joined the army during World War I and on his way to a training camp in Quebec he bought a bear cub. The train had made a stop at White River, Ontario and there Harry met a hunter who sold him a female bear cub for $20. The hunter had killed its mother. Harry named the bear Winnie after his adopted home city of Winnipeg. Harry was posted to England and took Winnie with him where she quickly became the mascot of Harry’s regiment, The Fort Garry Horse. Harry was the regiment’s veterinarian. When Harry was sent to France for three years he put Winnie in the London Zoo.
When author A. A. Milne visited the London Zoo with his son Christopher, the young boy immediately fell in love with Winnie the bear cub and named his teddy bear after Winnie. That teddy bear would become the main character in a series of stories his father would write about Winnie the Pooh.
After the war Major Harry Coleburn decided to leave Winnie in the London Zoo and went back to Winnipeg where he practiced veterinary medicine till just a couple of years prior to his death in 1947.
A. A. Milne’s books about Winnie the Pooh became beloved pieces of children’s literature read around the world. Later Walt Disney turned the stories into a movie and television series.
This statue just outside the Children’s Nature Playground at Assiniboine Park recognizes the connection between Winnipeg and the literary character Winnie the Pooh. A plaque nearby explains the story of Harry Coleburn. His impetuous decision to purchase a bear cub and name it after Winnipeg had consequences that reached far beyond anything he might have imagined.