I consider Winnie the Pooh to be one of the noblest gifts Canada has ever bestowed on the world. And make no mistake: Winnie is Canadian. As Canadian as moose antlers, Murray McLaughlin and Margaret Atwood all wrapped up in a Don Cherry sports jacket.
Yes, I know that Winnie the Pooh is an imaginary creature — ‘a fictional anthropomorphic teddy bear’ as my dictionary so disdainfully sniffs. But Winnie was a real fur- and-blood Canadian bear. He was born in the backwoods of Northwestern Ontario in the early part of the last century and sold as a cub on the White River train platform to a Canadian soldier who was bound for Europe to fight in World War I. The soldier, Lieutenant Harry Colebourne of Winnipeg, was deployed, along with his furry mascot, to England.
When it came time for Lieutenant Colbourne to go to The Front, ‘Winnie’ (so named after the lieutenant’s home town) was donated to the London Zoo where he lived out his life, but not before captivating a little boy’s imagination — and more importantly, that of the little boy’s father, the writer A.A. Milne.
In a way, Winnie personified the Canadian stereotype. He was friendly, helpful, steadfast, powerful but pacific and…perhaps a touch provincial. Okay, Winnie was gullible and naïve. “A bear of little brain”, as his creator would write. Think Bob and Doug Mackenzie with fur.
What Winnie the Pooh NEVER was is subversive – but try to tell that to Poland. A statue of Winnie the Pooh has been banned from a playground in the Polish town Tuszyn.
Why? Because he doesn’t wear underpants, that’s why. Winnie is bear-assed, if you will.
“The problem with that bear is it doesn’t have a complete wardrobe,” explained one town councillor. “It is half-naked, which is totally inappropriate for children.”
You know, I never thought of it before, but the councillor is right. I’ve never seen Winnie wearing anything more than a red T-shirt and sometimes a little toque on his head. Shows what a gullible and naïve Canuck I am, I guess.
The Polish guardians of public sanctity may have started an international shaming storm for fantasy bears. Already the British Board of Film Classification has been moved to slap a WARNING tag on Paddington (a movie about another half-dressed bear). The board says the film contains ‘dangerous behaviour, mild threats, mild sex references and mild bad language’ rendering it ‘unsuitable for children under eight’.
Paddington Bear? Really????
I don’t want to panic the good citizens of Poland or Britain but…have they noticed the nether quarters of Donald, Daisy and Daffy Duck? Micky and Minnie? Frosty the Snowman?
If they can’t handle cartoon semi-nudity they definitely should stay out of the Canadian backwoods.
Our bears don’t even wear T shirts.
— Arthur Black lives on Saltspring Island. His column appears Tuesday in The NEWS. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.