“Winnie”

by

Stories about bears are usually a winning subject for children’s books.  Probably one of the most famous literary bears is, of course,  Winnie-the-Pooh.9780805097153_p0_v2_s114x166   A new book by Sally M. Walker relates the true story of Winnie, the inspiration for A.A. Milne’s stories.

Harry Colebourn, a Canadian veterinarian and soldier during W.W.I, saw a bear for sale at a train station in Canada. As a lover of animals, he knew that he was meant to take care of Winnipeg, later shortened to Winnie.  When he was transferred to a training camp in England, he brought Winnie with him.  She became the mascot for Colebourn’s regiment.  Reluctantly, he donated Winnie to the London Zoo in 1919.  At the zoo, a young boy named Christopher Robin first visited her.

Walker who has said she loves to connect young readers with history did a good amount of research in order to write this book.  She contacted the archivist for the F. Garry Horse Regiment in Manitoba and learned that  Colebourn had kept diaries during the war and mentions the bear in them.  She traveled to London and met with the London Zoo archivist who allowed her to look through the “daily occurrences book.”  These volumes listed activities in the zoo from the weather, to the number of visitors, to the animals the zoo acquired.  Walker read that on “May 12, 1934, one American black bear, a female, was put down.”

Colebourn died in 1947 and knew of the success of Milne’s Pooh stories.  In tribute to both Colebourn and Winnepeg, Walker said that the London Zoo has their “Winnie Files.”  These records include zookeepers’ testimonies and letters from soldiers who wrote how much “Winnie” meant to them.  Winnie was indeed a very special bear, and Sally Walker’s book “Winnie” will hopefully inform young readers about the story behind the wonderful Winnie-the-Pooh.

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