White River in Ontario is famous even if you haven’t heard of it before.
Winnie-the-Pooh, a beloved honey-loving bear (not to be confused with the new bloody slasher film remake), has a surprising connection to this tiny Canadian rail town in Ontario.
While Winnie’s character was based on a real-life female bear who lived in the London Zoo, she was brought there by a Canadian soldier and veterinarian named Harry Colebourn.
The story starts in White River, Ontario, a small town with a population of only 700, that sits along HWY 17 between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay.
In 1914, a trainload of military men pulled into White River, where Harry Colebourn spotted a trapper with a black bear cub on a leash. He bought the cub for $20 and named her “Winnipeg Bear” after the Royal Winnipeg Regiment, which eventually became nicknamed “Winnie”.
The gentle cub accompanied Harry and his fellow soldiers as they headed overseas for World War I, becoming the regiment’s mascot. When the war started, Harry realized it was no place for a bear, and brought her to what he had hoped would be a temporary home at the London Zoo’s new bear habitat.
As the war dragged on, Harry realized Winnie was better suited to call the zoo her permanent home, and the people of London became so enamored with her that she became their star attraction. She was so well-behaved that children were even allowed to enter the bear pit to ride on her back or feed her out of their hands.
It’s at the zoo where Winnie met the young boy Christopher Robin Milne, who would beg his father author A. A. Milne to visit her frequently.
Christopher Robin became so fond of Winnie that he changed his teddy bear’s name to “Winnie the Pooh,” who sat alongside his other stuffed animals including Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo and Tigger.
Winnie and Christopher’s friendship served as the inspiration behind A. A. Milne’s first book of children’s poetry “When We Were Very Young,” followed by the publication of a full volume of stories that were eventually adapted into a cartoon by Walt Disney.
Today, White River is a hot destination for outdoor tourism in Northern Ontario, particularly for hunting and fishing. Visitors can explore the town’s history at White River Heritage Museum, stop by the historic train station, and hike or camp at White River Provincial Park.
In town, a large park and playground continues to honour Winnie, with a historic statue of him with his signature honey jar in the tree.
White River also continues to celebrate Winnie-the-Pooh, with an annual 3 day “Winnie’s Hometown Festival” on the third week of August. The event draws visitors from all around, with music, shows, and events.
Some of the events include a Teddy Bear Workshop, a Winnie-the-Pooh Parade, a re-enactment of when Harry Colebourn purchased Winnie, and a Teddy Bear Picnic.