How a Certain Bear Received the Name of “Winnie-the-Pooh.”

The History of Winnie the Pooh

A.A Milne with his son Christopher Robin

Most children have read Winnie- the -Pooh.  The book has been translated into 33 languages.  Most readers know that a father (A.A Milne) wrote stories of a bear for his son, Christopher Robin.  What kids may not know why A.A Milne put a bear  as the main character.  The main character could have been a donkey, a little pig or an owl.

Christopher Robin with his bear Winnie-the-Pooh

World War 1 (1914-1918)

How did A.A Milne’s bear get the name “Winnie”?   To find out the answer we have to travel back in time to Canada.  Just before war broke out in 1914, there was a man called Lieutenant Harry Colebourne who was a soldier who lived in the city of Winnipeg.

One of his jobs as an army vet was to look after the horses that were being shipped across Canada and then by boat to England.

Buying a Bear

The steam train carrying horses and soldiers stopped in a Canadian town called White River.  The horses would be taken off the train and would be watered and feed and exercised.  The soldiers would be exercised by marching up and down the main street.

One day Lieutenant Harry Colebourne bought a small bear cub.  Its mother had been shot by a hunder.  Since Harry lived in the city of Winnipeg, he named the cub “Winnie” in honour of his home city.

This little bear, known as “Winnie” became a pet for the soldiers, sleeping under the cot of Harry Colebourne.  Later on, the vet brought Winnie to London, England and in 1914, he learned that he would be shipped to France to fight in the war.

The London Zoo

Lieutenant Colebourn was now a Captain and he loved Winnie.  He put her in the London Zoo to be looked after until he returned from the war.  Winnie became a great attraction and people would knock on her zoo door.  Winnie would open it and come out.  She would allow children to ride on her back.  She even took food from people’s hands. 

No other bear in the zoo was as kind and friendly as Winnie, so they never got to be near people.  Whenever Captain Colebourne had time off in the army, he would come and visit Winnie.  After seeing how popular Winnie was with the kids, the kind Captain decided NOT to take Winnie back with him to Canada.  The War ended on November 11, 1918 and Winnie was donated to the London Zoo on December 1, 1918.


A.A. Milne and Christopher Robin

Like so many children, Christopher Robin Milne visited the London Zoo with his father A.A Milne.  It was Christopher who added the name “Pooh” to Winnie’s name.  His pet swan was named Pooh.  When Christopher was one year old, he was given a bear that he called Edward.  After seeing Winnie at the Zoo, he renamed his bear, “Winnie-the-Pooh.”  Christopher Robin was lucky to have a birthday party at the London Zoo with his friends.  It was held in Winnie’s den at the zoo.

In 1926, when Christopher Robin was about five years old, his father published stories that he said were about Winnie at the Zoo and his son’s stuffed animals.

Goodbye to Winnie

Winnie lived a long and happy life.  She died on May 12, 1934 at the age of 20 years. She was so loved that a London Newspaper wrote about her death.  Harry Colebourne was given the sad news by Zoo officials.  They had sent pictures and letters about his lovely Winnie over the years.

The London Zoo Remembers.

In 1981, a bronze statue of Winnie was unveiled at the London Zoo.  There is a plaque that reads, “She She gave her name to “Winnie-the-Pooh” and A.A. Milne and Ernest Shepard gave “Winnie-the-Pooh” to the rest of the world.  Ernest Shepard was the artist who drew the characters.   There is also a bronze statue of Captain Colebourn and Winnie in the children’s section at the London Zoo which is a copy of the one in Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg. It was given to the Zoo by the Canadian province of Manitoba of which Winnipeg is the captial city.