A bear of very little history

“And furthermore,” I said, “how come Winnie the Pooh has a girl’s name?”

This is the kind of argumentative brat I was circa 1960. Long after the fact, the worst that could happen has happened: not only was she a female, but she was black:

Canadian author Lindsay Mattick has a brand new picture book out called Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear. In it, Mattick tells the story of her great-grandfather, Harry Colebourn, who was a WWI veterinarian on his way to London to treat battlefield horses. Just before getting on a train, he happened to spot a li’l bear cub tied to a pole, and “followed his heart and rescued [the] baby bear.” Colebourn named the bear Winnie, after his native home, Winnipeg, Canada.

What kind of lowlife ties a bear cub to a pole?

And apparently the book is not quite as brand-new as our source says, but I hadn’t heard of it. (Maybe if it had come out circa 1960.)

Colebourn and Winnie became fast BFFs, and the two stayed together until Colebourn had to deploy to France. He knew Winnie couldn’t travel with him, so he took her to the London Zoo and asked if they could look after his cub. The London Zoo said yes, of course, and the two went their separate ways. Pause to cry a little bit.

Now dry those tears, because this story has a happy ending. Even though Colebourn left Winnie behind, she wasn’t alone for long. A little boy named Christopher Robin loved to visit Winnie at the zoo. Christopher Robin even re-named his own stuffed bear, “Edward,” to “Winnie.” And Christopher Robin’s dad? Writer A. A. Milne, who clearly took a liking to Winnie as well, because soon children everywhere were reading about the adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin in the Hundred Acre Wood.

And at that stage of my existence, I was telling jokes on the level of “What do Winnie the Pooh and Popeye the Sailor have in common?”

One last bit of Canadian content: this lovely, if sappy, tune by the Toronto band Edward Bear.

(Previous Canadian-content reference.)


  1. fillyjonk »

    9 September 2017 · 7:51 am

    I also remember reading somewhere that the real Winnie loved condensed milk as a treat.

    Incidentally, the teddy bear was allegedly inspired by yet another cub tied to a pole – the story goes that after a couple days of poor hunting, Teddy Roosevelt’s camp-workers caught a cub (some sources say an old and injured bear) and tied it to a pole, with the thought that TR might like to take a shot, however unsporting. TR, of course (at least in the story) refused, and a Russian immigrant toymaker in New York saw a political cartoon based on the alleged incident and started making and selling “Teddy’s bears.” (and that company later became Ideal, which, I don’t know if it still exists, but it did when I was a child).

  2. ETat »

    9 September 2017 · 8:35 am

    FJ, “Ideal”s founder was as Russian as you are Apache or Cherokee.
    Rose and Morris Mitchtom were Jewish, their connection to Russia was purely geographical incidence of birth. Morris fled Russian Empire, “a refugee from pogroms”. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/rose-and-morris-michtom
    When you look up Ideal Toy Company in Wiki, the “key figures” listed are all Jews.
    “Because of the doll’s popularity, Roosevelt and the Republican Party adopted it as their symbol in the election of 1904, and Michtom bears were placed on display at every public White House function.”
    That’s what is called “Yiddishe Kop”!

  3. Dan T. »

    9 September 2017 · 8:36 am

    According to Wikipedia, Ideal was absorbed into Mattel (after a whole series of mergers), while its UK assets got acquired by Hasbro. Those two companies seem to have engulfed and devoured pretty much all the toy and game brands.

  4. McG »

    9 September 2017 · 9:42 am

    Popeye and Winnie had the same thing in common with Smokey. Yet somehow it never caught on more widely.

  5. nightfly »

    12 September 2017 · 10:36 am

    I wonder if the story of the bear cub in the train station also indirectly inspired Paddington Bear, who was named after the station he was found in.

    (Sadly just discovering that it is no longer possible to ask the author, who passed away not two months ago.)

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