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HOME > ARTICLES > OCTOBER 2003

THE POLITICS
OF POOH


by Chris Hearn

As the United States is fully engaged in hostilities in Iraq it is interesting to note that a literary figure of renown and a symbol of Peace was inspired by the mascot of a Canadian Infantry Brigade that served in World War I. That figure is Winnie-the-Pooh and she, yes Winnie was a female, was a North American Black Bear from Winnipeg, Canada. Thus the name Winnie.

In August 1914, Lieutenant Harry Colebourn, a Veterinary Officer with the 34th Fort Garry Horse from Manitoba, was traveling by train from his home in Winnipeg to enroll in the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps in Valcartier, Quebec. Lt. Colebourn was required to change trains in White River Bend, Ontario when he saw a man on the station platform with a Black Bear cut tied to a bench. Lt. Colebourn queried the owner, a trapper who had shot and killed the bear's mother, about purchasing the bear. A deal was struck for $20, and the bear soon became the mascot of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade with whom the Lieutenant had been posted.

In December 1914, the 2nd Brigade received orders to go to France. Colebourn thought the front was no place for a bear cut so while in London, England he visited the London Zoo and asked the zoo to keep "Winnie" until his return- -which he thought would be no more than a couple of weeks. "The War To End All Wars" would not oblige and it was not until 1918 that Colebourn returned safely to London. By this time Winnie had become a favorite of the people of London, England itself and the zoo staff. As Winnie seemed to like her surroundings very well, Colebourn decided to leave her there. Colebourn returned to Canada but returned to see Winnie on several occasions. Winnie grew into a big friendly bear and thrived until she peacefully passed away on May 12, 1834. By the way, Winnie loved condensed milk and disliked, of all things, honey.

In 1924, young Christopher Robin Milne was first introduced to the "bear with very little brain," at the London Zoo. In 1926, Christopher Milne moved with his family to a farm in Sussex, England and took with him a stuffed bear called "Edward." Well, the name Edward would not do for such a bear and from that day on "Edward" was known as "Winnie- the-Pooh." His father, A.A. Milne, was inspired to write four books about the adventures of Winnie and Christopher Robin. The rest, they say, is history.

Throughout the years Pooh has become an icon for children who loved him/her (the toy was a boy) for what he stood for- -loyalty, friendship and love. It is easy to see why Pooh has served several causes, many without the copyrights executed, as their symbol of non- violence and peace. In the late 1960's, Pooh was used by the anti-war movement to represent peaceful dissent. In the 1970's the Ban the Bomb movement used him and the other characters- -Piglet, Eeyore, as symbols of their movement. In the 1980's the vegetarians asked "Don't Eat Meat" and once again Pooh represented the cause. Pooh, himself, might say "Oh Bother" when suggesting that his image means so much to so many political causes.

Today, the love of this bear is epitomized by the fact that Disney sells more Winnie-the- Pooh paraphernalia than even Mickey Mouse. There is just something so precious as a bear that does not question- -loyalty, friendship and love.

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