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Harry Colebourn

Portrait of Harry Colebourn as a soldierHarry Colebourn was a Canadian veterinarian who, on his train journey from Winnipeg to Valcartier to join the Canadian troops heading Europe at the beginning of WWI, purchased a bear cub in White River.  This cub was the mascot for Colebourn's regiment and was eventually donated to the London Zoo when the regiment deployed to France.  While at the London Zoo, Winnie, named after Winnipeg where Colebourn lived, became popular with the public in general and with Christopher Robin Milne in particular.  Christopher Robin called his teddy bear after Winnie, giving it the name Winnie-the-Pooh.  This bear was the genesis of the Winnie-the-Pooh story books written by Christopher Robin's father, A.A. Milne.

Colebourn was born in Birmingham, England in 1887 and emigrated to Canada in 1905.  He settled in Toronto where he attended the Ontario Veterinary College, graduating in 1911 as a veterinary surgeon.  He accepted a position with Manitoba's Department of Agriculture and moved to Winnipeg that same year.  Later that year Colebourn joined the Mounted Rifles as a militia officer, later becoming an officer with the 34th regiment of cavalry, Fort Garry Horse. 

When war broke out in 1914, Colebourn enlisted and prepared to ship out to Europe.  Throughout the war, Colebourn served as a veterinarian caring for the military animals, primarily horses, working directly behind the lines of many of the major battles on the Western Front.

After the war Colebourn pursued postgraduate studies at the Royal Veterinary College of Surgeons in London.  Colebourn had originally planned to bring Winnie back to Canada with him, but she had become a popular attraction at the zoo.  In December he donated Winnie to the London Zoo.

Upon returning to Canada, Colebourn settled back in Winnipeg where he established veterinary practice for small animals and horses.  Colebourn married Christina McLeod in 1923 and had a son, Fred, who was born in 1925.  Colebourn continued working in his veterninary practice until he died in 1947.

A more detailed biography of Harry Colebourn by his son, Fred,  is available as part of this collection.