TORONTO - Before there was Pooh, Tigger or Eeyore, there was a real bear cub and a helpful veterinarian pal, who were both from Canada.
The new children's book "Finding Winnie," which is being eyed for a film adaptation, tells the real Canadian story that inspired A. A. Milne's classic "Winnie-the-Pooh" tales.
The author is Toronto-based Lindsay Mattick, whose great-grandfather was that very vet, Harry Colebourn of Winnipeg.
"I want people who love 'Winnie-the-Pooh' to understand that the real story behind her is just as beautiful and just as amazing," said Mattick, who has already sold the big-screen rights to the newly published book.
"I'm still blown away that, while a lot of people in Canada certainly know the story and know the history now, around the world it's really still not known.
"People don't even realize that there was a real bear."
"Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear" is told through a bedtime story session between a mother and her young son, Cole.
Cole is inspired by Mattick's real-life son, who has the same name and to whom she dedicates the book, writing: "May this story always remind you of the impact one small, loving gesture can have."
As the mother tells Cole in the book, Colebourn was sent away from Winnipeg in 1914 to tend to soldiers' horses overseas.
During a stop on a train platform in White River, Ont., he met a man sitting with a gentle black bear cub and gave him $20 for it, thinking he could take good care of it along his journeys.
Colebourn and the soldiers bonded with and trained the cub, which he called Winnipeg (Winnie). She even became the mascot of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade.
But Colebourn realized he eventually had to give her up, so he brought her to the London Zoo, where he later checked in on her to ensure she was well cared for.
That's where a young boy named Christopher Robin Milne grew to love her — a bond that eventually inspired his dad, Alan Alexander Milne, to write "Winnie-the-Pooh."
Sophie Blackall illustrates the book, which includes archival photos.
"There are two main emotional takeaways from the book: one is the dedication, which is this idea that you never know the impact that one small loving gesture can have," said Mattick.
"It's like when my great-grandfather 100 years ago just bought a bear because he loved animals. He couldn't have been thinking that much more than, 'Hey, this will bring a lot of joy to me, to my fellow soldiers.'
"But he had no idea that in this very simple act, all these incredible consequences would come from it."
The other takeaway is "sometimes to let one new story begin, another one needs to end," she added.
"I think that that's a life lesson that we all have to learn along the way. It's like, you go through life and one chapter closes and another one opens and this story was very much that."
Mattick, who runs a public relations firm, said she'd been wanting to write about this story since she got out of journalism school over 10 years ago.
She got the motivation when she found out she was pregnant with Cole, who is named after his great-great-grandfather, who died in 1947.
The first thing she wrote was the dedication to him.
She's read the story to the now-three-year-old a couple of times, but he's still too young to understand it.
"I think he thinks he's related to a bear," Mattick said with a laugh.