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It’s nearly 100 years since A.A. Milne published his first book about one of our most loved bears, Winnie the Pooh. But did you know that Winnie the Pooh was named after a Canadian female black bear called Winnie that lived at London Zoo?
In 1914 a Canadian veterinarian named Harry Colebourn was travelling across Canada by train to a training camp in Quebec ready to embark for overseas duty during World War I. When the train stopped at a station in White River, Ontario, Coleburn came across a hunter who had a female bear cub for sale. Colebourn persuaded the hunter to sell him the cub for $20, and named her “Winnie” after his adopted home town Winnipeg. He brought the bear to England where she briefly became the unofficial mascot of the Fort Garry Horse Cavalry Regiment.
When the time came for Colebourn to ship out to France he loaned Winnie to London Zoo. Winnie soon became a huge attraction due to her playfulness and gentleness. It was at the zoo that A. A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin Milne encountered Winnie. Christopher visited Winnie regularly and was even allowed to feed her. He was so taken with Winnie that he renamed his teddy bear after her which was to become the inspiration for his father’s fictional character.
Winnie’s final home was to have been the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg but when Colebourn visited Winnie at the end of the war, he saw how happy the bear was and decided to make the loan a permanent one. Winnie died in 1934 at the age of 20, two years older than the average wild black bear. Her skull was preserved and has recently been put on display. According to museum director Sam Alberti, Winnie’s skull shows she lived with severe gum disease, likely because of the honey on sticky buns she was fed by adoring visitors!!