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White River – The home of the real Winnie The Pooh

May 2021

While Walt Disney may have made Winnie The Pooh a famous American icon, the soft-hearted bear with the insatiable need for honey actually has a Canadian connection.

The real Winnie the Pooh, the one that inspired Christopher Robin Milne, son of English author A.A. Milne, to name his teddy bear Winnie the Pooh, and subsequently inspire Milne himself to write a series of children’s stories based on his son’s teddy bear and other stuffed animals, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo and Tigger, was a black bear originally owned by Captain Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian with the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, attached to the Fort Garry Horse cavalry regiment, during World War I.

Winnie the black bear, named after Colebourn’s hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, was an orphaned bear cub that Colebourn purchased from a hunter, when the troop train carrying him and other members of the Fort Garry Horse to Halifax, Nova Scotia, briefly stopped in White River, Ontario.

Colebourn smuggled Winnie aboard the ship taking him and the regiment to England, where she became the mascot of the Fort Garry Horse.

Winnie was left in the care of the London Zoo when Colebourn and the regiment left for France, and she became a popular attraction. After the war ended, Colebourn decided to officially donate Winnie to the London Zoo, because of her popularity.

It was at the London Zoo that Christopher Milne fell in love with Winnie, inspiring the name of his toy bear, along with a swan named Pooh, that the family happened upon while on vacation.

Pooh the swan was also mentioned in A.A. Milne’s book, “When we were very young.”

To celebrate its connection to Winnie the Pooh, the small northern Ontario town of White River features various Winnie memorabilia in its heritage museum, but the most prominent reminders of the town’s connection to the honey-loving bear is the 15-foot-high statue of Winnie sitting in a tree, and the annual Winnie’s Hometown Festival.

Found in Winnie the Pooh Park, the statue is easily seen from Highway 17, also known as the Trans-Canada Highway, as it passes through the town, which is located halfway between Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie.

White River was originally established as a railway town by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885, and was only accessible by train until Highway 17 was completed through the town in 1961.

The historic 1886 train station where Captain Harry Colebourn arrived in the town is still an active railway station, now serviced by Via Rail, and is located on Winnipeg Street.

Sources: Experience the Birthplace of Winnie-the-Pooh | Northern Ontario Travel, Winnie the Pooh Statue in White River (bigthings.ca), Canada Cool I Winnie the Pooh was from White River Ontario, Winnie-the-Pooh – Wikipedia, Harry Colebourn – Wikipedia, White River, Ontario – Wikipedia, The Corporation of the Township of White River – Attractions.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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