This is a story that few people in the world know. If you were to ask someone, “Where did Winnie-the-Pooh come from?” their answer would most likely be England. Their answer would be wrong because Winnie-the-Pooh is from White River!
In August 1914, early in World War I, a train full of Canadian troops on their way to war in England made the regular stop in White River for fuel and water. On that particular train was a veterinarian by the name of Lieutenant Harry Colebourn (who later became a Captain) from Winnipeg, Manitoba.Captain Colebourn adored animals and could not pass up the opportunity to purchase an orphaned Black Bear cub from a trapper on the platform in White River. He named his new little friend ‘Winnipeg’ after his hometown, called her Winnie for short and paid the trapper $20.
Winnie traveled the rest of the way to England with Captain Colebourn and became so well trained and loveable that she became the mascot of the 34th Fort Gary Horse of Winnipeg, Canadian Infantry Brigade, of which Captain Colebourn belonged.
When the time came for the Captain to go to the front lines in France, he had to say good-bye to his little friend. Winnie was left in care of the London Zoo where she became one of the most popular attractions. Winnie was loved by everyone who saw her, especially a little boy called Christopher Robin Milne.
Christopher Robin’s father, A.A. Milne, was so fascinated by Winnie and his son’s adoration for her that he was inspired to write children’s stories about wonderful adventures that Christopher Robin and Winnie had together. The other characters in the stories; Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga and Roo, Rabbit and Owl were inspired by toys that Christopher Robin had in his room. Today, all over the world, people of all ages enjoy the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends that were inspired by a bear from White River!
The next time you are in White River why not stop at the White River Heritage Museum located on Elgin Street and view some of the photos and artefacts displayed about White River and its rich and colourful history. Every August, White River holds a festival to commemorate the purchase of Winnie by Captain Colebourn. This year Winnie’s Hometown Festival will be taking place August 16-18, 2013. If you are a Pooh fan, be sure to attend! Don’t forget to visit Winnie in his Honey Tree on the highway to get your picture! And stop by our Information Centre for more information about Winnie and Northern Ontario.