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The Real Story of Winnie the Pooh

Kaili is a student of history and of WWI. She has researched BEF and Canadian battles and has visited WWI battle sites, including Gallipoli.

Paddington Bear. Teddy Bear. Pooh Bear.

When a young Canadian soldier on his way to the Front rescued a bear and made her the mascot for his regiment, who could have dreamed that this little bear would inspire another man to create a beloved children's character.

This is the story of Winnie The Pooh.

Harry and Winnie on the Salisbury Plain 1914


Harry Colebourn was a 27 year old veterinarian, and like so many young men of his era, he had signed up to go overseas to fight for Britain, his mother country. The Canadian Army’s Veterinary Corps had been founded in 1910, and when Canada answered Britain’s call to war on August 5th, 1914, there were only two sections of the Veterinary Service ready to mobilize. One of these was in the city of Winnipeg in Manitoba, one of Canada’s western provinces.

Harry had been born in Britain, and moved to Canada when he was 18, attending Canada’s oldest veterinary school in Guelph Ontario, where he earned his degree as a veterinary surgeon. The west beckoned, and Harry moved to Winnipeg.

Veterinarians in WWI

Veterinarians like Harry were desperately needed in WW1. The army relied heavily on horses in those days to pull guns and munitions, and to transport men. Someone needed to take care of these beautiful beasts that served so well.

And so it was that Harry boarded a train carrying troops and horses, destined for Valcartier Camp in Québec.

August 24, 1914: Winnipeg's Finest Heading for the Front


Harry Colebourn's Attestation Paper from WWI



On August 24th, 1914 at one point in the journey, the train stopped at a wide spot in the road called White River in the province of Ontario. White River was a place the Canadian Pacific Railway trains stopped to take on water and coal. It also offered an opportunity to take the horses off for some much needed exercise and water.

Harry detrained along with the other troops and came across a hunter who had something interesting for sale; an orphaned black bear. The hunter had shot the cub’s mother and was now trying to sell the little she bear. Harry bought her for $20. His diary entry for that day reads:

“Left Port Arthur 7 a.m. In train all day. Bought bear $20.”

Harry named the little bear Winnie after his hometown of Winnipeg.

Harry and Winnie's Journey

Winnie Arrives at Valcartier

Like all of the brave men who signed up to go to war, Harry had to undergo basic training before heading overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). He and Winnie arrived at Valcartier Camp in Québec and settled in, where Winnie became the mascot for Harry's regiment. Harry so loved the little black bear that she actually slept under his cot.

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Winnie at Valcartier Camp

Winnie's nose is cut off in this photo; you can see a sign in the background with the name "Winnie" on it

Winnie's nose is cut off in this photo; you can see a sign in the background with the name "Winnie" on it

Valcartier Camp 1914

Harry and Winnie would have stayed in a tent like these

Harry and Winnie would have stayed in a tent like these

Winnie Crosses the Atlantic

Harry and Winnie sailed with the CEF for England, where Harry continued his training and Winnie won the hearts of the soldiers. They were well known on the Salisbury Plain where the CEF was encamped.

When Harry's regiment was due to cross the channel to France, he was concerned for Winnie's safety on the Western Front. Harry asked the London Zoo to take care of his beloved little bear.

And it was there that the story of Winnie the Pooh began.

Winnie the Pooh

Writer and playwrite Alan Milne (A.A. Milne) happened to be visiting the London Zoo one day with his young son Christopher Robin, when they came upon Winnie. So taken was the young boy with the little bear that Milne promised to write some stories about Winnie. Christopher changed the name of his own stuffed bear from Edward Bear to Winnie.

The character Winnie the Pooh was first introduced to the world in a poem called 'Teddy Bear' that was published in Punch magazine in February 1924. A.A. Milne went on to publish 'Winnie the Pooh' in 1926, 'Now We Are Six' in 1927 and 'The House at Pooh Corner' in 1928.

Harry visited Winnie at the Zoo whenever he was on leave, and he recognized how happy she made people. He decided to donate her to the Zoo permanently instead of taking her home to Canada as he had originally planned. Harry made it safely back to Winnipeg after the war, where he resumed his veterinary practice.

Winnie lived out her days at the London Zoo, where she died in 1934.

Winnie's Song

© 2014 Kaili Bisson


Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on May 03, 2016:

Hello RT, I'm so glad you enjoyed this. It is such a lovely story, isn't it? So glad both Pooh and Harry lived out their lives in peace.

Milne was a superb writer...he must have been one of those very fortunate adults who retains a child-like wonder about things to write the way he did.

RTalloni on May 03, 2016:

Thanks for this delightful look at Pooh's origin! Just the name Winnie the Pooh brings a smile to faces, and mine is smiling now. :)

It's a wonderful thing that Milne wrote with such sweet simplicity for children. Oh that society would encourage that today instead of growing them up too fast!

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on October 06, 2014:

Hello Kenneth,

I am so glad that you enjoyed this hub. I have always loved this story.

Thank you too for your note of encouragement and kind words about my work :-)

Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on October 05, 2014:


Adorable hub. So perfect in text and graphics. Voted up and all across. I loved this hub. Please keep up the fine work.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on September 15, 2014:

Hello teaches and you are welcome! Sorry for the delay in replying; I am just now back from vacation.

Winnie was among the many mascots that Canadian troops took with them to Europe. I might write something about a few of the others.

Dianna Mendez on August 31, 2014:

What a great share on such a popular character. Thanks for the interesting details and background.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on August 29, 2014:

You are so very welcome Deb. Have a great long weekend!

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on August 29, 2014:

I never was aware of Winnie's story. Thank you for this.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on August 28, 2014:

Hi Jodah, I'm so glad you enjoyed this. The story has always fascinated me. Winnie was proudly Canadian :-)

I am an amateur WW1 historian, so am fortunate to have access to lots of great material. Will be doing a hub on the Anzacs in future.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 28, 2014:

Hi Kaili, what a wonderful story. I had no idea that Winnie the Poo was based on a real bear. I enjoyed this read and the wonderful photo history added to it. Thanks for sharing.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on August 26, 2014:

Hi midget...agreed. Winnie apparently was so tame that children at the Zoo could ride on her back. That would never happen today, for so many reasons.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on August 26, 2014:

Hi oldiesmusic. So glad you enjoyed this. It really is a cool story, isn't it.

Michelle Liew from Singapore on August 26, 2014:

Winnie is a fantastic bear, Kalli!

oldiesmusic from United States on August 25, 2014:

Wow, how could we know that Winnie the Pooh originated from the most unlikely circumstances. Winnie the Pooh was a favorite when I was a kid. Such a nice, sweet story you shared. Thank you! :)

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on August 25, 2014:

Hello Jackie and thank you. It really is such a great story, isn't it?

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on August 25, 2014:

Hello are so welcome! Glad you enjoyed it.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on August 25, 2014:

What a great story about such a well loved bear! Loved it.

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on August 25, 2014:

Very interesting material. Thank you, so much, for sharing!! ;-)

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on August 25, 2014:

Hello Twilight Laws...I love the photo of you with your own little Pooh bear. I am so very glad that you still have him and that he keeps a watchful eye on you after all this time together.

Milne was a great writer, and he really knew how to get inside a child's head. The illustrations in the early books were just wonderful too.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on August 25, 2014:

Hi spartucus, oh no an earworm!

I recall the CBC used to run these little clips from time to time and one of them was this story. It always fascinated me.

Twilight Lawns from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. on August 25, 2014:

Thank you so much for a charming and enlightening article on a bear who is very close to my heart. I have always, from about the age of four... or even earlier, loved the stories of Winnie-Ther-Pooh, and my own bear, who I still have with me, is also named Pooh. He is a little tired and somewhat worn in places; but that is to be expected, as he is almost seventy-four years old. And he has travelled extensively with me and my family. He is still brave and takes care of me, keeping an eye on my from his chair in my bedroom.

And now, because you have spurred me into doing it, I have read, yet again, the poem you mentioned: ‘Teddy Bear’. It still captivates me, not only for its charm, but for the cleverness of Mr Milne’s writing.

Thank you again.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on August 25, 2014:

Thank you Billy, glad you enjoyed it. I had intended to publish it on August 24th, but the weekend got away on me.

The writing on the back of the postcard with Winnie's picture says "This is the bear. They have a bear and a goat down there. They take them to England with them."

CJ Baker from Parts Unknown on August 25, 2014:

A fascinating part of Canadian history. Thanks for sharing, it was an enjoyable read. The video also brought back some nostalgic childhood memories. Of course I now got the Winnie The Pooh song stuck in my head!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 25, 2014:

Now that was fascinating! Truly a great story.

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