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A very famous military bear

A photo of Lt. Harry Colebourn, with his bear Winnipeg — known as

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A photo of Lt. Harry Colebourn, with his bear Winnipeg — known as "Winnie" — on Salisbury Plain, England, during training in late 1914.

One hundred years ago this week, a $20 transaction took place that continues to pay off today.

That’s how much Lt. Harry Colebourn spent to buy a female bear cub while he was passing through White River, Ont., on Aug. 24, 1914.

Colebourn was veterinarian for the Winnipeg-based Fort Garry Horse regiment, and he named the bear after his home city.

The $20 he spent to buy the cub would be worth about $425 today, but the cultural value of "Winnie" the bear is much higher than that.

Adopted as a regimental mascot, Colebourn smuggled his pet bear onto the train for the rest of the way to training camp at Valcartier, Que. In October, he smuggled her on to the SS Manitou for the trip to Britain.

But when the troops were sent on to France for battle in December 1914, Colebourn left his bear in the safe hands of the London Zoo, where she quickly became a star attraction.

That’s where A.A. Milne’s young son, Christopher Robin, spotted her, becoming enraptured enough to change the name of his teddy bear from Edward Bear to Winnie the Pooh. The boy was such a regular visitor that he was sometimes allowed into Winnie’s cage to feed the bear condensed milk.

"Pooh" may have been a swan that Christopher met on holiday.

Milne’s character of Winnie the Pooh, of course, is famed for his menagerie of other stuffed animal friends and his fondness for "hunny," and remains a childhood favourite today.

According to his diaries, Colebourn intended that Winnie the bear be eventually returned to Canada and given to the Assiniboine Zoo in Winnipeg, but he ended up gifting her to the London Zoo instead.

Winnie died in 1934.

» Brandon Sun

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 27, 2014

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One hundred years ago this week, a $20 transaction took place that continues to pay off today.

That’s how much Lt. Harry Colebourn spent to buy a female bear cub while he was passing through White River, Ont., on Aug. 24, 1914.

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One hundred years ago this week, a $20 transaction took place that continues to pay off today.

That’s how much Lt. Harry Colebourn spent to buy a female bear cub while he was passing through White River, Ont., on Aug. 24, 1914.

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