During World War One, soldiers and sailors on both sides of the conflict used animals for transportation, manual labor and as mascots. Such was the case of the Fort Garry Horse cavalry regiment, whose mascot was a bear cub.
The animal was purchased by soldier and veterinarian Harry Colebourn in White River, Ontario, a railroad stop, in August 1914. He was on his way to report to the Canadian Army Veterinary Corp. which was training in Valcartier, Quebec.
A hunter had killed the cub’s mother and was selling the cub for $20. Colebourn purchased her and named her Winnipeg after his home city. It was not an uncommon occurrence in the early parts of the 20th century to have a pet bear.
Winnipeg was sometimes called Winnie. Colebourn snuck her aboard his ship when he traveled to England. Winnie was very loyal. She slept in the same tent as her owner until she grew large enough that there was concern she might be able to knock the tent down. After that she was tethered and had to sleep outside.
Winnie stayed with Colebourn until he was deployed to France. He left her at the London Zoo with the intention of taking her back to Canada with him at the war’s end. However, Winnie became popular with zoo goers, especially children, so Colebourn officially donated her to the zoo.
Today, you can see a statue of Colebourn with Winnie at Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Zoo. The zoo was supposed to be Winnie’s home after the war until she was donated to the London Zoo.
During the 1920s, author A.A. Milne took his son young, Christopher Robin, to visit the London Zoo. There, the boy fell in love with the bear and renamed his stuffed bear Winnie. Thus, Winnie the war mascot, became the muse for the literary character Winnie-the-Pooh.
Winnie-the-Pooh first appeared in a children’s poem in 1924. The first book was published two years later.
Many of the characters in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories were based on Christopher’s stuffed animals while Hundred Acre Wood is based on a real area.
Did you know Winnipeg the Bear inspired Winnie the Pooh? Leave a comment below.
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