The Pooh Gallery

Remembering The Real Winnie: 
The World’s Most Famous Bear Turns 100

Now this bear’s name is Winnie, which shows what a good name for bears it is, but the funny thing is that we can’t remember whether Winnie is called after Pooh, or Pooh after Winnie. We did know once, but we have forgotten… 
 — A.A. Milne 

This exhibition presents a Canadian story from World War I: Lieutenant Harry Colebourn’s adoption, transportation and donation to the London Zoo of a Canadian female black bear that would later inspire a literary icon, A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. It derives from objects in Colebourn’s personal collection, many of which were with him during the Great War of 1914–1918.   

Harry Colebourn (1887–1947) joined the military at age 24, months after graduating from the Ontario Veterinary College. In the diaries he kept during the war, his voice is careful and restrained; he recounts both his purchase of Winnie and his experiences of war with seeming detachment. But his photographs, like the diaries’ undercurrents, reveal the cub’s importance to Colebourn and his regiment. As for thousands of soldiers, caring for an animal was his way of maintaining a semblance of normalcy in wartime. 

Colebourn had to leave Winnie in London when he went to the front, to minister to the horses that were essential to the conflict. By 1916—when the battles of the Somme reached their height—Winnie had become a celebrity. In the early 1920s she attracted the attention of young Christopher Robin Milne and his father, A.A. Milne. Milne created a fantasy world around his son and his toy bear, named for Colebourn’s beloved pet. In a traumatized post-war era, this imagined, safe world commanded legions of fans. 

Remembering The Real Winnie positions Colebourn’s photographs alongside his diaries, documents, and other objects and ephemera to highlight the role of photographs within the archive. Torn and stained from age and use, inscribed with names and dates, these image-objects embody a story that belongs equally to Canadian culture and to global literature at the centenary of the Great War.

Co-curators Dr. Irene Gammel and Kate Addleman-Frankel
With Special Thanks to Doina Popescu, Marcos Armstrong and Imma Gobunquin

Co-presented by the Pavilion at Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg, and Ryerson University, Toronto, under the auspices of Ryerson’s Modern Literature & Culture Research Centre (MLC).
With special thanks to:

Colebourn Family Archive
Lindsay Mattick
Ryerson Image Centre
Archive of Modern Conflict
Made possible with the support of:

The Asper Foundation
Canadian Western Bank
Bryce & Nicki Douglas
Susan Glass & Arni Thorsteinson, Shelter Canadian Properties Limited
Brian & Ruth Hastings
National Leasing
Honorary Colonel Fort Garry Horse Bob Williams
Remembering the Real Winnie