There are few bears in the world more famous, fictional or real, than Winnie the Pooh.

The little honey coloured bear with a short red jacket is a household phenomena in story telling across the world.

The story of Winnie the Pooh goes back to the time of the first world war between 1914 and 1918.

An animal hunter has killed the mother of, then entrapped and caught, its black bear cub in the rocky mountains of Canada on the American continent.

A young Canadian soldier, a calvary veterinarian, has set out on his long journey to Europe to join British forces in the war against the Germans.

In a chance encounter at a train stop in White River Ontario,  that soldier meets the animal hunter and develops a real and genuine affection for the bear cub.

The animal hunter is persuaded to release the bear cub to his custody.

It matters not the negotiated price, only that the bear cub has been saved from a probable,  unsavoury life.

The bear cub accompanies the soldier across the pond we call the Atlantic Ocean to the totally unfamiliar surroundings of the English city of London.

This is, however, a far fry from the natural habitat enjoyed in Canada.

The soldier is allowed by his regiment to keep the bear cub with him at his digs.

While normal people walked dogs on the streets of London, one uniformed Canadian soldier walked a bear cub.

And he was handsome too, unmarried, suave, funny, articulate, ambitious.

But sooner or later he knew the call would come to go and fight for the cause.

It was now the spring of 1916 and the Great War was not destined to end any time soon.

When the soldier finally got the call to go to France and fight, the young and playful bear cub, to which he had become so attached, was reluctantly placed in the custody of London Zoo.

Throughout the duration of the war and for many years afterwards, the bear cub would come to be recognized as a mascot for Canadians in battle.

The young soldier could not have known it at the time but the act of leaving the bear cub at London Zoo would prove significant in the future both for the bear and himself.

It was that same tortuous conflict which would draw military service to a young Londoner who had married his childhood sweetheart in 1913 and who was ambitious enough to have whatever he wrote put into print for public reading.

He called his only son Christopher Robin and the family lived close to the environs of Ashdown Forest and the Hundred Acre Wood in the heart of the Sussex countryside in the south east of England.

The writer was fond of taking his son to London Zoo where many exotic animals could be seen but notably a black bear which was no longer the cub first settled into the zoo in 1916.

The Canadian soldier had survived the war and returned for a few years to his native land.

The inspiration came to the writer to write a story about a honey bear and his friend.

In a way, it was a case of a father idolizing and expecting to learn from his own son as the real life Christopher Robin was transported through the loop from reality to fiction in the honey bear stories.

The honey bear creation was named Winnie.

Appropriate it seemed because the real life bear which inspired the story came from the environs of Winnipeg.

And Winnie is short for Winnipeg.

The Pooh bit came from a black swan which Christopher Robin was fond of feeding whenever he visited the zoo.

Pooh became the  unlikely catchphrase which stuck like honey to the bear as the writer developed the story for publication.

The only misinterpretation about the story is that Winnie had to be a boy bear for some reason and the real bear was in fact a girl bear.

Did it ever matter?

And should it matter that a father should model a character in the story on his own son’s childhood and use his names as well?

Metaphorically speaking, the real life Christopher Robin spent half a lifetime to get off his knees from saying his prayers before coming to terms with who he was and running a bookshop in the Devonshire town of Dartmouth.

Whether by accident or design, the real life Winnie had become a celebrity too as a result of the publication of the Winnie the Pooh stories.

The Canadian soldier finally returned to London in the 1920s.

His affinity with Winnie was still there but this was now to be a partnership of three.

The soldier,now a veterinarian back home in Winnipeg, had formed a close bond with the woman who had looked after Winnie these past ten years.

The Canadian married Winnie’s long-term custodian and authorities were persuaded to allow Winnie to return to Canada with the couple.

The story never made any headlines but just like a fairytale, the newly wed couple and the honey bear returned to Canada and lived happily ever after.

So, as you can see, there are two bears in this story, one real and one fictional, but the stories themselves are irrevocably entwined.

No story about Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin would be complete without a mention for Piglet, Eeeyore, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit and Tigger who brought so much fun and frivolity to the stories.

Winnie the Pooh is and will always be as every bit real as he and she is fictional.

Finally, and just for the record, the writer of the Winnie the Pooh stories was Alan Alexander Milne.  He preferred to be known as A.A. Milne at least for his literary achievements.

The Canadian soldier was Harry Colebourn who did indeed come from Winnipeg.

The real life Winnie died in 1934.


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