The First World War, Winnipeg, and Winnie-the-Pooh

22 Jul

‘Tis the season for vacationing, and my wife and I just returned from some time in Manitoba, a day’s drive north of us here in Iowa.

While in Winnipeg, we spent much of the day in Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg’s answer to Central Park and Golden Gate Park. We did not see everything, but we enjoyed what we did see.

This bear-made-of-plants is featured at one point:

Winnie, Assiniboine Park, 7-18-14

In the building pictured behind the plant-bear (the Pavilion Gallery), we found out why.

In 1914, veterinarian Harry Colebourn purchased an orphaned bear cub and named him Winnie, after his hometown of Winnipeg. Colebourn was a lieutenant in the Fort Garry Horse Militia, where he practiced his veterinary profession. The unit went to Europe that year–a hundred years ago this year–to fight in the Great War, and Winnie went along as a mascot.

Winnie did not return to Canada, but instead was given to the London Zoo. There, Winnie entranced a young Christopher Robin Milne–and Christopher’s father, A.A. Milne, eventually wrote Winnie-the-Pooh.

(There is a brief YouTube clip which nicely dramatizes all this:

Thanks for the link, Sam Martin!)

Winnie, Assiniboine Park, 7-18-14 (2)So, an English classic of children’s literature has ties not only to World War I, but to Winnipeg. Neither the war nor the Manitoba metropolis are apparent in the book itself. Winnipeggians, however–indeed, Canadians in general–are quite eager to make the connections clear.

Perhaps this can remind us of at least two things. First, that the World War did entangle much of the world from the beginning, not only Europe. Second, that even out of world-encompassing death and destruction can come, by grace, some beautiful things.

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