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Harry Colebourn

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Harry Colebourn and Winnie on Salisbury Plain in 1914
Harry Colebourn and Winnie on Salisbury Plain in 1914

Harry D. Colebourn (April 12, 1887–September 24, 1947) was a Canadian veterinarian and soldier with the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps best known for donating a bear cub named "Winnie" (short for "Winnipeg") to London Zoo. Winnie later inspired the creation of A. A. Milne's famous children's book character Winnie-the-Pooh.

Early life

Harry Colebourn was born in Birmingham, England[1] and emigrated to Canada when he was 18. He attended the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ontario, receiving his degree in veterinary surgery, and moved west to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Winnie and World War I

As he was heading across Canada by train to the training camp at Valcartier, Quebec where he was to embark for overseas duty during World War I, Colebourn came across a hunter in White River, Ontario who had a female black bear cub for sale, having killed the cub's mother. Colebourn purchased the cub for $20, named her "Winnie" after his adopted home town, and took her across the Atlantic with him to Salisbury Plain, where she became an unofficial mascot of the Fort Garry Horse, a militia cavalry regiment. Colebourn himself was a member of the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, attached to the Fort Garry Horse as a veterinarian. While Colebourn served three years in France, attaining the rank of major, he kept Winnie at the London Zoo to which he eventually donated her.[2]

Colebourn is buried in a military cemetery in Canada underneath a regulation grave marker.
Colebourn is buried in a military cemetery in Canada underneath a regulation grave marker.

It was at the London Zoo that A. A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin Milne encountered Winnie.[3] Christopher was so taken with her that he named his teddy bear after her, which became the inspiration for Milne's fictional character in the books Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928). Milne also included several poems about Winnie-the-Pooh in the children’s poetry books When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. All four volumes were illustrated by E. H. Shepard. Winnie remained at the zoo until her death in 1934.

After the war

After the war, Colebourn did post-graduate work at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in London, England and then, in 1920, he returned to Canada and started a private practice in Winnipeg. He retired in 1945 and died in September, 1947. He is buried in Brookside Cemetery in Winnipeg. There are statues of Colebourn and Winnie in Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo and at the London Zoo.[4]

Books and movies

  • Shushkewich, Val. The Real Winnie: A One-of-a-Kind Bear, Toronto, ON: Natural Heritage Books, 2003. ISBN 1-896219-89-6
  • A Bear Named Winnie - a 2004 made-for-television drama film about Colebourn and Winnipeg.
The movie starred Michael Fassbender as Colebourn, alongside Gil Bellows, David Suchet and Stephen Fry.

See also


  1. ^ http://www.canadiangreatwarproject.com/searches/soldierDetail.asp?ID=69285
  2. ^ Artefact of the month: Winnie the bear and Lt. Colebourn Statue at Zoological Society of London, 28 November 2014
  3. ^ "Winnie the Pooh: Inspired by a Canadian bear". Archived from the original on October 22, 2009. Retrieved 2010-10-18.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  4. ^ The true tale of Winnie the Pooh, an unlikely First World War legacy at CBC Radio, 11 November 2015
  5. ^ Mattick is the great-granddaughter of Colebourn
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Harry Colebourn
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