The story of the real Winnie the Pooh

TORONTO -- When Lindsay Mattick was expecting her son Cole, she knew one day she'd want to share some family history with him.

axelrodwinniepooh.png
Lindsay Mattick
CBS News

So she wrote a book about a soldier and a bear.

"My great-grandfather's story was not famous. It was not known." But without his story, there is no Winnie the Pooh.

Harry Colebourn was her great-grandfather's name, and Winnipeg was his hometown. He was a veterinarian on his way to ship out for World War I when his train stopped in a small Canadian town.

"He gets off the train and there's a hunter there. And the hunter has killed a bear and he's selling the cubs for $20."

He bought a young female cub, named her after his hometown, and took her across the Atlantic with him. "Winnie" became the mascot for Harry's regiment.

axelrodwinnie.png
Harry Colebourn and the real-life Winnie
Lindsay Mattick

That was fine while training in England, but when it came time to head to the front lines in France, he took Winnie to a zoo in London. He knew he had to keep Winnie safe.

"He planned to get Winnie at the end of the war, but clearly the war lasted four years and he realized at that point she had a new home," Mattick said.

And did she ever -- she'd become a star attraction at the London zoo.

axelrodwinniethepooh.png
Disney

"She did have a remarkable temperament. London zookeepers would let children inside her enclosure to play," Mattick explained.

Among the kids entranced by Winnie was a boy named Christopher Robin. His father, A.A. Milne, began writing children's stories about Christopher and Winnie.

Milne may have made the character famous, but Harry Colebourn made it possible, as Lindsay Mattick's book "Finding Winnie" shows us.

axelrodfingingwinnie.png
Little, Brown

"That's powerful to know -- that something you do in a moment can go on to have these incredible huge ripple effects that you never could even have imagined."

In all her many versions, Winnie's been making life sweeter for kids for nearly a century now. Not a bad return on a $20-dollar investment.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.