What’s different about the Toronto version of the exhibit is a section dedicated to the Canadian connection to the bear named “Winnie,” short for Winnipeg. The city, in part, inspired the iconic character’s rise to fame.
Visitors will learn about the young black bear cub that travelled with her companion, Lt. Harry Colebourn, to England from the forests of Ontario in 1914. Once the bear cub grew up, Colebourn surrendered the animal to the London Zoo in 1915.
READ MORE: Winnipeg gets new Winnie exhibit
While at the zoo, A. A. Milne’s son Christopher Robin became a big fan of the bear and this prompted many family visits. The frequent interactions between the boy and the bear helped to inspire Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories, which were illustrated by E.H. Shepard.
“Shepard and Milne are the Lennon and McCartney of children’s books,” said Julius Bryant, keeper of word and image at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), in London, England.
The exhibition is full of large-scale imagery and props that recreate settings like Christopher Robin’s bedroom, Hundred Acre Wood (complete with a footbridge for playing Poohsticks, a slide, and trees), Pooh’s house, and more.
But for Capt. Harry Colebourn’s great-granddaughter, Lindsay Mattick, one of the most treasured items on display at the ROM is the 1914 diary that belonged to her great-grandfather.
“It’s one of several diaries that he kept during the First World War and if you look at the Aug. 24 entry, it says, ‘Left Port Arthur on train 7 a.m. Bought bear $20,” said Mattick.
From there, the exhibit aims to immerse visitors into the studio where Shepard began his illustrations.
“… and finally talk about the wide influence of the bear,” said Justin Jennings, a senior curator at the ROM.
“We’ll mention Disney for the first time … we’ll talk about some of the marketing agreements that were set up in the 1930s, some of the first of their kind – the millions of dollars made off of Pooh.”
Different from the animated Disney version of Winnie-the-Pooh, the original characters are based on them being toys –stuffed animals — with each character as an archetype with one thing in common: The characters all look up to Pooh for his innocence and honesty.
The six-chapter exhibit was originally featured at London’s V&A and then other international stops. The tour is finishing in Toronto.
Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic opens on Saturday and it will remain at the ROM until Aug. 3.