Winnie the Bear’s Regiment is 100 Year Old Today!

Yes, if Winnie was alive today, she (not he) would be proud and pleased with  the men who surrounded her and helped her to become one of their own as mascot and member of the Fort Gary Horse family.  She would be happy that today, April 12, 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the Fort Garry Horse Regiment and would be saying “Happy Birthday” if she could.   When the regiment was but two years old, Lieutenant Harry Colebourn, was heading from Winnipeg to Québec in 1914.  Enroute they stopped in White River, Ontario where a hunter had shot and killed a mother bear.  The baby black bear cub was left without any care and so Lieutenant Colebourn, who was also a veterinarian, decided to buy her from the hunter for 20 dollars.  He had decided to call her “Winnie” after his home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

The bear travelled with the FGH to England as the Forces prepared to wage battle in Europe during the First World War.  When it was time to fight in France, Colebourn thought it was best that Winnie be left in the care of the London Zoo and so he did just that.  She did very well there to the point where children were able to ride her and dignitaries from all over came to have their photo take with Winnie. Many of these photos are archived at the London Zoo. She became quite the famous bear in her own right due to her calm nature and friendly disposition.

Lieutenant Colebourn had originally had plans to bring Winnie the Bear back to the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg after the war, however, when he saw how well she had adjusted to the London Zoo, he decided this would be the best place for her to live.  She lived for 20 years until 1934.  During this time, many people saw the bear.  Two of these people were named A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard who happened to be a writer and illustrator respectively.   It is interesting to note that Milne had taken his son, Christopher Robin, to see the bear, who became so enamoured by her that Christopher named his stuffed teddy bear after Winnie and this also inspired his father to write the “Winnie-the- Pooh” book in 1926 which also ended up featuring this very same son as a character in the now famous books.

This initial book and the three other books have formed the basis of many future continuing books, games and movies.  To this day, children around the world know the story of Winnie-the-Pooh bear but few people know the real roots of the story or the connectedness to the Fort Garry Horse Regiment of Winnipeg. Some real books have been written about the real story of Winne the Bear but few people know of them.  A couple of these books may be found in the library section of the Fort Garry Horse Museum.  Only recently was a movie produced by CBC called “A Bear Named Winnie” in 2004.  We should give thanks to Lieutenant Colebourn and the Fort Garry Horse Regiment for having saved this bear which has had a much bigger impact on the world than even they knew or suspected would or could occur.  Lieutenant Colebourn returned from the war and continued serving with the Fort Garry Horse unit.  He reached the level of Major. As a veterinarian, his practice was just down the street on Corydon Avenue not far from Confusion Corners.   One man’s actions such as Lieutenant Colebourn’s has become an instigation for many other deeds and effects.

We must remember certain facts.  Winnie was a real bear.  She came from Canada.  She was born in or around White River, Ontario and she is named after Winnipeg, Manitoba.  What is most important to understand and recognize is that had it not been for the tragedy of World War I in Europe and had it not been for the tragedy that Winnie’s mother had been killed, the circumstances that led her to being in England at that time would not have happened and the books of “Winnie-the-Pooh” either would not have happened or would have not been the same.  In addition, it is precisely because she was so well taken care of by Lieutenant Colebourn that she was able to develop a friendly disposition that attracted many people’s interest.   Because of these circumstances, the story has been written, illustrated and told.  For generations of people around the world, Winnie-the-Pooh is a fictional character and is now loved as a favourite children’s classic but it was entirely based on actual bear named Winnie.  She was the real being.

As a reminder of this historical connectedness, there is a bronze statue of Lieutenant Harry Colebourn along with Winnie the Bear at Assniboine Park Zoo but did you also realize, that there is an exact replica of them at the London Zoo as well?  They are two symbols recognizing two key areas of Winnie the Bear and the connection to the Fort Garry Horse Regiment.

It is with pride today, on April 12, 2012 that Winnipeggers and other people around the world can recognize the Fort Garry Horse Regiment for their entire 100 year history inclusive of so many events and so many great deeds.  To help appreciate the history of the Fort Garry Horse, come out to the parades on Saturday, April 14, 2012 at the City of Winnipeg for 10:00 am and at the Manitoba Legislature for 11:45 am.  A new 100-year historial book called “Facta Non Verba” with 544 pages of information regarding the the Fort Garry Horse will be released this Friday and is available for sale.

For more information and details, see their website – http://www.fortgarryhorse.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=91&Itemid=99

Mary Mikawoz is a freelance writer, visual artist and photographer.  She is also a teacher and new media specialist.

Fort Garry Horse – Stan Butterworth – A World War II Vet

Stan Butterworth

Stan Butterworth, WWII Veteran –   Photograph by Mary Mikawoz

This man who greets me at the door with a smile and rosy cheeks is 88 years young.  As he takes my coat, a courtesy of his generation and invites me to sit at his dining room table, we sit down for a chat that easily could have taken many more hours.

Stan Butterworth proudly shows me photos of his family and friends.  He shows me how his school team won the city-wide championship in soccer.  He then shows me a newspaper from 2005.  It is the edition that the Winnipeg Free Press put out to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the war.  In it, there are over 20 pages of soldiers who have died from the province of Manitoba.  He tells me that there are over 4000 soldiers who lost their lives in the second war just from our province alone.  He says this with much sadness and concern.  He discounts his own involvement with the war effort as a member of the Fort Garry Horse Regiment, an armoured unit to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

We talk about the past.  He tells me of how he joined up with his brother, Fred Butterworth.  They joined up at the Fort Osborne Barracks which is now home to the Izzy Asper Centre School and the Rose & Max Rady Jewish Community Centre near Assiniboine Park.  That location has a lot of memories for a lot of people.  They did their initial physical and aptitude training there.  Their choices at the time were between the armoured corps, the artillery corps or the service corps.  They chose to become armoured and so took on wearing the Black Beret as part of the Canadian Armoured Corp.

Training continued at the University of Manitoba.  There, the residential dorms were turned over to the military.  The famous, centrally located brick Administration Building of the University of Manitoba was turned partially into an Orderly Room.  The parking lot behind Dafoe Library, Fletcher Argue and Tier Buildings was turned into a parade square for the soldiers to practice on.  Many students of the University of Manitoba do not know the rich history of how their campus was used in the war effort.

For graduation, they marched down south to Elm Park Bridge beside where now the BDI stands, which for many Winnipeggers know is a great place to get ice cream before walking the very same bridge these soldiers were on.  The soldiers continued down St. Mary’s Road to what would now be close to the perimeter.  They had to cross back over to Pembina Highway and the only way they could do this back then was by crossing on a ferry.  They then headed back north to the University of Manitoba campus.

Having graduated this portion, they travelled to Camp Borden where they took more training with 13 weeks of gunnery and 13 weeks in wireless.  However, the Allies were preparing for D-Day and so every available soldier was being taken over to Europe in preparation.  This meant that Stan and Fred had to teach recruits even though they were not finished their own.  While the new people came in to learn the first portion, they also continued to learn on their own second part of the training program.  Finally, they headed to Nova Scotia and then onto a boat called the “Isle de France” in March 1944.

Their voyage was interesting as the ship left Halifax and started heading south as if to go to Africa but then during the night, it turned north back towards Europe.  He suspects that there were u-boats on their trail.  At various times, they were escorted by Corvettes and Sunderland Flying Boats.  Travel on the boat was another thing as mats were laid on the ship’s floor and then immediately above them were hammocks.  The ride was so rough that their boat was like a cork in water bobbing in the rocking waves.  Stan, Fred and a few others did not like this so at night time when they went into black out conditions for their own safety, they would sneak off and sleep in the lifeboats instead.  They made it to Scotland on April 1st, 1944.

As time went on, they made it to Aldershot, England which is only an hour from the famous Stonehenge Monument and is “Home to the British Army.”  This is where Stan and Fred received real “Advance Training” in preparation for going over.    They fought in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany.  There is much more of a story here but not enough time or space to write it all down.  Let it be said that on April 13, 1945, Fred, Stan’s only brother, made the ultimate sacrifice and died in the war effort.

Stan came back and married his sweetheart, Hazel Carlson, had two sons of his own, naming the first one in honour of his brother and his family lineage.  He went on to live in various places in Western Canada with his family but returned to Winnipeg where he had renewed his interest and involvement with the Fort Garry Horse Regiment in 1975 to this day.

He, along with many other key people, was instrumental in having the Fort Garry Horse Memorial Monument placed in Assiniboine Park beside the Pavilion.  It stands tall and proud in reflecting the battle honours this regiment has been a part of.  Interestingly now, a 100 years has passed since its inception and the Fort Garry Horse have produced a history book to be released at McNally Robinson’s on April 13, 2012 at 1:00 pm in the Atrium.  For more information, see http://www.mcnallyrobinson.com/product/category/0/item/716849/mcnorgan-crossley-facta-non-verba

In addition, the Fort Garry Horse is commemorating the 100th anniversary with a series of events including a parade at the City Hall and another at the Provincial Legislature to which the general public is invited.  There is also a Gala Cavalry Ball.  For more information, go to http://www.fortgarryhorse.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=91&Itemid=99

Mary Mikawoz is a teacher, freelance writer, artist and photographer.  She was born and raised in Winnipeg and then lived in eight Canadian cities as an adult.  She has a wealth of knowledge with continuously learning at eight Universities and Colleges in Canada.  She has two University degrees and a College diploma.  She strives hard to produce work that is representative and is a very good reflection of people and their organizations.

For more information – https://mikawoz.wordpress.com/ or contact Mikawoz@gmail.com or @MaryMikawoz