“Winnipeg” the Bear

a.k.a. “Winnie the Pooh”

Winnie the Real Live Bear

Winnie with owner Lieutenant Harry Colebourn, 1915
Winnie with owner Lieutenant Harry Colebourn, 1915

Long before author A.A. Milne first created his beloved character, there was a real live bear by the name of Winnie who had already won the hearts of Londoners. This black bear hailed from the wilderness of the Canadian forests, and had been on a long journey before finally coming to the London Zoo where it would first meet a young Christopher Robin Milne.

Over eighty years ago, the community of White River, Ontario, Canada, bid farewell to a little black bear cub.  This bear would become the inspiration of author A.A. Milne and subsequently became one of the most loved bears in the world. This is her story.There was a little black bear cub that became an orphan when a hunter killed her mother. She was found by a trapper who brought her into White River, which was a fairly common thing to do in 1914. Several people had bears then. Some have photos showing pet bears leashed and posing with family members.

 Lieutenant Harry Colebourn

White River, which was founded by the Canadian Pacific Railway back in 1885, was an important stop for all trains.  Here they would take on coal and water as well as doing some train housekeeping jobs, such as cleaning out the cinders. During the First World War, most trains carrying troops also carried horses, since they were used in the war. Trains would stop here from four to six hours. The horses were taken off the train to be watered and exercised.  Troops were drilled along Winnipeg Street where the Train Station was located.  It was here at the Train Station, that the trapper sold the bear cub to a soldier during a stopover. The soldier was Lieutenant Harry Colebourn. An entry in his journal reads, “August 24, 1914 Left Port Arthur 7AM. In train all day. Bought bear $20”. A later notation identifies the town as White River.

Harry Colebourn, was attached to both the Fort Garry Horse Regiment and the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps. He was in charge of the horses on the troop train. He was headed for Val Carteir, Quebec and then on to England. Harry was born in England and came to Toronto, Ontario, Canada when he was 18.  He later moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Harry decided to name the little cub “Winnipeg” after his hometown. This little bear, known as “Winnie” became a pet for the soldiers, sleeping under the cot of her master even after they reached the Salisbury Plains in England. As Winnie got bigger, she loved to climb the centre pole in the soldier’s tent and give it a shake. It was becoming a concern that the tent might collapse during the night, so she was tethered to a pole outside the tent.

 The London Zoo

Winnie with Christopher Robin Milne, London Zoo
Winnie with Christopher Robin Milne, London Zoo

Harry Colebourn was now a Captain. In 1914 he received the news that he would soon be shipped to France. He knew that Winnie would not be able to accompany him, so he made arrangements to keep her in the London Zoo until he returned. Winnie soon became a favorite attraction. People would knock on her door and she would open it and come out. She would allow children to ride on her back and she would eat from their hands. The attendants who cared for her stated that Winnie was completely trustworthy. Other bears were not allowed to have such a close relationship with the visiting public.

Captain Colebourn visited Winnie at the Zoo whenever he was on leave. He always recorded his visits in his diary.  When Harry saw how popular she was with the children and adults, he decided he would not take her back to Canada as he had planned. She was officially donated to the Zoo on December 1, 1918.

 A.A. Milne and Christopher Robin

This little bear captured the hearts of many visitors to the Zoo, among them A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin Milne. They became frequent visitors and it was Christopher who added “Pooh” to Winnie’s name. He got the name from his pet swan named Pooh. Christopher had a bear given to him on his first birthday on August 21, 1921 which he first called Edward Bear, but soon changed to “Winnie-the-Pooh” after the playful Winnie at the London Zoo.

The original stuffed "Pooh Bear" with "Tigger,"  "Eor," etc.
The original stuffed “Pooh Bear” with “Tigger,” “Eor,” etc.

A.A. Milne started to write stories about a loveable bear in his children’s books based on that bear in the Zoo. In his first edition in 1926, he mentioned that these stories were about this bear and his son and his son’s stuffed animals. We have been told that Christopher Robin had a birthday party at the Zoo that included some of his friends and “Winnie-the-Pooh” as well, since it was held in Winnie’s den.

Winnie lived a long, full life in the zoo, occasionally not wanting to take her pills for arthritis, but otherwise very content. She died on May 12, 1934 when she was 20 years old. She was so loved by all that the London Newspaper ran her obituary. Harry Colebourn was kept up to date on Winnie over the years and was informed about her death by the Zoo Officials.


Kate Aitkin, Pioneer Woman Broadcaster

Known across Canada as “Mrs. A.”

kate aitkinKate Aitken (April 6, 1891 – December 11, 1971) was a Canadian radio and television broadcaster in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. As Mrs. A, she was one of the most famous hosts on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in her era.

Kate Aitken was born Kate Scott in Beeton, Ont. She taught school in Cypress Hills, Alta. Following her marriage to Henry M. Aitken in 1914, Aitken moved back to Ontario to run a poultry farm and fruit canning business. In 1923, Aitken became Director of Women’s Activities for the Canadian National Exhibition and conducted cooking schools for 29 years until 1952. In 1927, she attended the Imperial Wheat Conference for the Ontario Department of Agriculture. Aitken began full-time broadcasting for CFRB and later CBC, writing and producing a homemaking-general news show three times a day, five days a week for over 23 years.

During World War II, Aitken was appointed Supervisor of Conservation for the Wartime Prices and Trade Board. Travelling across the country, “Mrs A” created her famous “Make over and make do” workshops designed to teach women to budget and conserve materials in short supply. As Food Editor for “The Standard” in 1945, Aitken travelled throughout Great Britain, Denmark and Norway doing a post-war food survey. She became a regular feature writer for the “Globe and Mail, “Chatelaine” and “Maclean’s”. She made five world tours to trouble areas such as Cyprus, Spain and Korea.

In 1955, Aitken resigned from radio in order to devote more time to writing and lecturing. She wrote more than a dozen books on cooking, travel and etiquette and two autobiographies; “Never a Day so Bright” (1956), and “Making Your Living is Fun” (1959). In 1958, Aitken was appointed to the Board of Directors of the CBC and in 1959, was CBC representative to the Canadian National Commission for UNESCO. Aitken was National Secretary for the Federated Women’s Institute, President of the Toronto Women’s Press Club and belonged to several other clubs.


Listen to one of Mrs. A’s broadcasts to get a feel of a 1940s radio show, and for a surprisingly contemporary comment on Canadian school readings. Click here.


My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date). You can add your favourites, too. Just send me a note with your choice, title and author, to gerrybbooks@yahoo.ca

Johnny Fauquier – DSO (Double bar)

Probably Canada’s greatest bomber pilot

johnny fauquierJohn Emilius “Johnny” Fauquier DSO DFC (March 19, 1909 – April 3, 1981) was a Canadian aviator and Second World War Bomber Command leader. He commanded No. 405 Squadron RCAF and later No. 617 Squadron RAF (the Dambusters) over the course of the war. A bush pilot, prior to the war, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as a flight instructor in 1939. He joined 405 Squadron in 1941 and would fly operationally for the rest of the war, taking a drop in rank on one occasion to return to active command. During his three tours of operation he participated in Operation Hydra and dozens of other sorties over Europe.

Early years

John Emilius “Johnny” Fauquier was born at Ottawa, Ontario on March 19, 1909, educated at Ashbury College and then entered the investment business at Montreal, Quebec where he joined a flying club. After earning his commercial pilot’s licence he formed Commercial Airways at Noranda, Quebec and prior to the Second World War had flown some 3,000 hours as pilot in command on bush operations.

Second World War

Avro Lancaster bomber unloads its payload of bombs somewhere over Germany
Avro Lancaster bomber unloads its payload of bombs somewhere over Germany

He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1939 as a Flight Lieutenant, completed an advanced course and served until mid-1941 as instructor of British Commonwealth Air Training Plan instructors. After a short period in England at a glider and paratrooper training center, he was posted to No. 405 Squadron RCAF. On returning in difficult weather conditions after bombing Berlin with the squadron on the night of November 7, 1941, he was forced to land his plane on a non-operational airfield, and as a result was temporarily suspected of being a spy by the Home Guard.

By February 1942, Fauquier had been promoted to acting Wing Commander and given command of the squadron. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for gallantry. Shortly afterwards he was transferred from operations to the RCAF’s Overseas Headquarters for staff duties. He then served a short term with No. 6 Group before once more taking command of No. 405 Squadron in February 1942.

During Operation Hydra in August 1943, a bombing raid on a German military research facility at Peenemünde, he acted as deputy master bomber, making 17 passes over the target. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in September 1943, in part for his leadership during the raid. Soon after that raid he was promoted to acting Group Captain of that squadron, which had become a member of No. 8 (Pathfinder) Group.

lancaster pilotDuring January 1944, he flew 38 sorties, completing his second tour of operations with No. 405 Squadron. He was then awarded a Bar to his DSO.

After promotion to acting Air Commodore—a rank precluded from operational flying—he was Mentioned in Despatches in December 1944. He then voluntarily reverted to Group Captain so that he might begin a third tour of operations, this time as commanding officer of No. 617 Squadron RAF (the Dambusters squadron), which he led from December until the end of the war. Under his command the Dambusters conducted raids against submarine pens, viaducts and their targets.

With the end of the war in Europe, he was awarded a second Bar to his DSO for his command of 617 Squadron. Pat MacAdam, author of Unbelievable Canadian War Stories: Well Beyond the Call of Duty, has this to say about Fauquier:

“Had Johnnie Fauquier been an American,” observes Pat MacAdam, “Hollywood might have passed over Audie Murphy, Congressional Medal of Honour winner and United States’ most decorated soldier, for star treatment. The movie “To Hell and Back,” which starred Audie Murphy himself, told the story of his heroism.

“Johnnie Fauquier went to hell and back 100 times on bombing raids over Berlin, other key German targets, and the Peenamunde V2 rocket bases on the Baltic Sea. The normal tour for a bomber piolet was 30 raids. He did three tours and then some. He was the first Canadian to command a bomber squadron in battle, commanding both the crack RCAF 495 Pathfinder Squadron and later the RAF’s legendary Dambusters, Johnnie Fauquier was awarded the Dstinguished Service Order Medal (second only to the Victoria Cross) three times—more than any other Canadian warrior. He also wore the distinctive ribbon of the Distinguished Flying Cross on his tunic.”

After the war

After the war Fauquier returned to private business. He was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974.

On July 4, 1964 Fauquier traveled to Calgary, Alberta with Minister of Defence Paul Hellyer, to observe the last official RCAF flight of an Avro Lancaster. This Lancaster, KB-976, was captained by F/L Lynn Garrison with F/L Ralph Langemann as his co-pilot. Other crew members were Captain E.J. McGoldrick, F/O Brian B. McKay, and Jimmy Sutherland, a wartime Lancaster flight engineer.

Surprisingly unsung in death

Fauquier died on April 3, 1981, yet his plain grey granite grave marker simply records that Air Commodore John Emilius Fauquier is at rest there.

Source: Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Emilius_Fauquier

Conn Smythe

A Canadian Hockey Legend

conn smytheConstantine Falkland Cary Smythe, MC (February 1, 1895 – November 18, 1980) was a Canadian businessman, soldier and sportsman in ice hockey and horse racing. He is best known as the principal owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League (NHL) from 1927 to 1961 and as the builder of Maple Leaf Gardens. As owner of the Leafs during numerous championship years, his name appears on the Stanley Cup eight times: 1932, 1942, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1962.

Conn Smythe was born in Toronto, February 1, 1895. He first went to high school at Upper Canada College, and hated it. The following year, therefore, he transferred to Jarvis Collegiate Institute where he developed his athleticism, playing hockey, rugby, football and basketball, and playing on city championship teams in basketball and hockey in 1912.

At 17 Smythe become a homesteader on 150 acres (0.61 km2) in Clute Township, near Cochrane, Ontario, only to have the house he built destroyed by a devastating fire. He then changed his mind about living in the bush and enrolled in engineering studies at the University of Toronto in the fall of 1912. There he played hockey as a centre, captaining the Varsity Blues men’s ice hockey team to the finals of the 1914 Ontario Hockey Association junior championships and to the OHA junior championship the following year. The coach of the losing team in 1915 was Frank J. Selke, who years later would work for Smythe at Maple Leaf Gardens. Smythe also played on the University of Toronto football team, although not as a starter.

The First World War interrupted his studies. A week after winning the OHA championship in March 1915, Smythe and his eight teammates enlisted. Smythe recalled in his memoirs that he and several classmates tried to enlist at the beginning of the 1914–15 season, but were told to come back when they had beards. After attending the Royal School of Artillery in Kingston, Ontario he made full lieutenant, and was able to get himself transferred to the 40th (Sportsmen’s) Battery of Hamilton, organized by publishing figure Gordon Southam, son of William Southam. The unit, with Smythe as team manager, organized a team to compete in the Ontario Hockey Association’s senior league; they were one of four Toronto-based teams in the league in 1916. He played one game at centre, and then decided to replace himself with a better player. The team did not complete the season, as the 40th Battery went overseas in February 1916.

conn smythe - maple leaf posterThe Battery was ordered into the Ypres salient. On October 12, shelling found their position killing Major Southam and Sergeant-Major Norm Harvie, making Smythe temporarily commander of the Battery. The Battery fought for nearly two months in the trenches near the Somme before being relieved. In February 1917, Smythe earned a Military Cross, when during an attack the Germans counter-attacked with grenades. Smythe ran into the fight and killed three Germans and helped several wounded Canadian soldiers back to safety. Smythe then transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in July 1917. One of his instructors was Billy Barker, who would later become the first president of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Following the war, Smythe returned to Toronto. With his accrued Army salary and the proceeds from the sale of his homestead plot, he started a sand and gravel business. For a while, the business became a partnership with Frank Angotti, who owned a paving business. To support the need for sand and gravel, Smythe bought land northwest of Toronto for a sand pit. He returned to the University of Toronto and finished his civil engineering degree in 1920. Irene and Conn were married during the school year. Smythe and his paving business partner split, and Smythe retained the sand and gravel business. The company was named C. Smythe Limited and the company slogan was “C. Smythe for sand”, which he had painted on his trucks, the lettering in white on the blue of the trucks. Frank Selke, who had moved to Toronto, was one of Smythe’s first employees in the business. Irene took sand and gravel orders over the phone as well as taking care of newborn son Stafford. Smythe would own the business until 1961.

Queen Elizabeth II congratulates Maple Leaf Captain, Ted Kennedy, on her first visit to Canada in 1951
Queen Elizabeth II congratulates Maple Leaf Captain, Ted Kennedy, on her first visit to Canada in 1951

Meanwhile he continued to coach with the University of Toronto, and was even involved with the New York Rangers as a scout, but dispute with the then owner, Tex Rickard ended that relationship. However, using money he had received from Rickard, he doubled it by betting on a football game, and then doubled it again when he bet on the Rangers to defeat the St. Pats in Toronto. The Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1928, their second year of existence, largely with the players Smythe had brought to the team.

The Rangers went to the top of their division, while the St. Pats were doing poorly. J. P. Bickell, a part-owner of the St. Pats, contacted Smythe about taking over the team as coach, but Smythe turned him down. Smythe was more interested in owning the team or a share of the team, and told Bickell so. Not long after, the St. Pats were up for sale and Bickell offered Smythe a chance to become a part-owner. The club had a tentative agreement to be sold for $200,000 to a Philadelphia group, which would move the team. If Smythe could raise $160,000, Bickell would not sell his $40,000 share and the team would remain in Toronto. Smythe was successful, and on February 14, 1927, Smythe invested $10,000 and with the help of some partners bought the St. Pats, renaming them the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Maple leaf Gardens, 1935
Maple leaf Gardens, 1935

In 1929, Smythe decided, in the midst of the Great Depression, that the Maple Leafs needed a new arena. He knew it would take over a million dollars to construct and he got backing from Sun Life for half. The site was land from T. Eaton Co. on Carlton, a site Smythe selected because it was on the street car line. Smythe gave up the coaching position to concentrate on the arena project. The building started construction on June 1, 1931, and was ready on November 12, 1931, after five months. As part of a corporate reorganization, Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. was founded that year to own both the team and the arena. To pay for the building construction, the construction workers were paid with Maple Leaf Gardens stock instead of 20% of their pay. Selke, who had union connections, and Smythe were successful in negotiating the payment method in exchange for using unionised workers.

Thus, As owner of the Leafs during numerous championship years, his name appears on the Stanley Cup eight times: 1932, 1942, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1962.