In 1914 a Canadian soldier from Winnipeg named Harry Colebourn was travelling to Quebec on his way to be shipped overseas. He kept a detailed journal of his trip, and after stopping the night in Port Arthur, Ontario he wrote the following:
"Left Port Arthur 7 a.m. In train all day. Bought bear $20."I'm sure you, like myself, have many questions. Here are some of the answers:
- He bought the female bear cub from a hunter who had killed her mother.
- Colebourn was a veterinarian by trade, so him trying to help an animal is not unusual.
- Yes, he kept the bear.
- Yes, he brought it with him to basic training.
- Yes, he took it with him overseas.
That last one is important. Colebourn was shipped overseas to fight for England and he took an honest-to-god bear with him. I don't know if his officers were cool with this, or if they just decided not to f*ck with a guy who was travelling with a wild bear.
Yeah, I dunno either, Pierre.
Though he was obviously a badass (or maybe just nuts), Colebourn wasn't an asshole. When he shipped to the front lines in France he left the bear behind at the London Zoo. After the war Colebourn did post-grad work at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgery in London before returning to Winnipeg to open his own practice. The bear remained at the zoo and became possibly the most famous ursine in history.
Did I mention Colebourn named the bear "Winnipeg" after his hometown? Or "Winnie," for short?
A certain A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin visited the London Zoo and fell in love with Winnie. In fact, Christopher Robin loved the bear so much that his father wrote many books of stories about Winnie's adventures to entertain him. The rest, as they say, is history. And countless billions of dollars in merchandising for Disney.
Also, Milne may have eaten his son. Allegedly.
There is a statue of Colebourn with Winnie the Pooh at the London Zoo, commemorating their strange but important place in literary history. There's an identical statue in Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg, to bring the story full circle.
My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.
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