During World War I, trains carrying troops and horses would often stop in the town of White River to give the horses some water and a chance to exercise, while troops ran drills on Winnipeg Street. In 1914, during one of these stops, Lieutenant Harry Colebourn made a purchase that would go down as a part of Canadian history, commemorated in one of the ‘Heritage Minutes’ commercials from the 90s.
A local trapper sold Colebourn a bear cub for $20, a common practice at the time. He named the bear cub ‘Winnie’ after his hometown of Winnipeg and when he was shipped to France, made arrangements to have Winnie cared for at the London Zoo. In 1918, the bear was officially donated to the zoo after he saw how popular it had become to visitors, capturing the hearts of many. Other bears were not allowed to have as close a relationship with the public as Winnie, who was described as ‘trustworthy’ by zookeepers.
In the 1920s, Winnie captured the heart of another visitor, and his son. They were A.A. Milne and Christopher Robin Milne, who immortalized Winnie in the legendary tales of ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ When Winnie passed away in 1934, his obituary ran in the local newspaper.
It was a welcome and fun surprise to stop in for some gas and a snack on our way through Ontario to discover the true origin of Winnie the Pooh, and snap a photograph of this Disney inspired memorial that was unveiled in White River in 1992. The town holds a festival every year in memory of the little black bear cub.