The Hundred Acre Wood has come to Toronto.
Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends are familiar favourites for many people, including myself. Whether it was through the original books by author A. A. Milne and illustrator E. H. Shepard, or the later reimaginings by Disney, many of us grew up with stories of the calm honey-loving bear.
Winnie-The-Pooh: Exploring a Classic first opened at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) back in March 2020 but closed due to Covid-19. On September 1, after a long and lonely summer for many, the ROM reopened its doors and welcomed back visitors for a taste of nostalgia.
This exhibit, which debuted at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is the last stop on its world tour, fit with added homages to Pooh’s Canadian roots. During the first World War, Lieutenant Harry Colebournpurchased a bear cub in White River, Ontario, and named her “Winnie” after his hometown, Winnipeg. The cub was then secretly brought to England, becoming the mascot for Colebourn’s regiment, before being donated to the London Zoo. It was there that A. A. Milne’s son, Christopher Robin Milne, would see her and name his own teddy bear Winnie-the-Pooh.
At the exhibit, you’ll find photographs, letters, first drafts, colourful displays, and interactive settings. You can browse images of Christopher Robin’s toys and Ashdown Forest, which inspired the creation of the Hundred Acre Wood. Original sketches of Winnie and his friends line the walls. There’s also a mini Hundred Acre Wood and even a Thoughtful Spot (complete with a birch log and fire) for visitors to pause and reflect.
The exhibit also features correspondence between Milne and Shepard, whose illustrations would bring it all to life. Through all this, visitors experience Pooh Bear’s journey from Christopher Robin’s childhood teddy to a cultural icon for children worldwide.
While walking through the exhibit, I suddenly found myself back in the Hundred Acre Wood. Shepard’s drawings, minimal but remarkably expressive, with Milne’s familiar words, had the same quiet magic they did when I was young. At that moment, they weren’t just Christopher Robin’s friends, but mine too. It’s mind-blowing how Winnie-the-Pooh continues to evoke these feelings not only in myself but in millions of fans for almost a century. That countless people worldwide having a personal connection with the loveable bear truly speaks to the power of Milne’s creation.
The exhibit also shines a well-deserved spotlight on Shepard’s illustrations. Though his contributions were almost as significant as Milne’s, we rarely hear his name. It was Shepard who gave Winnie-the-Pooh his distinctive cuddly appearance, and Milne even begins the original books with one of Shepard’s drawings.
The exhibit was a welcome reprieve from these lonesome and uncertain times. Watching visitors of all ages enjoy the exhibit was a lovely experience, and the afternoon breezed by. What felt like just a few minutes turned out to be an hour.
While it was easy to forget the world’s current state, the ROM certainly hasn’t and has adjusted their practices to make your visit a safe one. Tickets can be booked on a timed basis to ensure greater physical distancing. You’ll also find signs and stickers on pre-set paths to further promote a two-meter distance between guests. Masks are mandatory in the museum, and certain interactive portions of the exhibit have been removed to prevent any potential spread of illnesses.
Though Winnie-the-Pooh had humble beginnings in a young boy’s nursery, he has become a massive cultural phenomenon, and the final part of the exhibit showcases this. You can see the first editions of A. A. Milne’s books and their transition to full-colour print. Visitors can also see examples of Winnie-the-Pooh’s international iterations (did you know he’s named Vinni Pukh in Russia?) alongside the many Pooh Bear-inspired products over the years.
During these challenging times, Winnie-The-Pooh: Exploring a Classic offers a welcome return to childhood memories. Though we may feel isolated, we’re never too far from those we love and who love us, and we’re never too old to find joy in life’s little wonders.
It’s also never too late to return home. As Pooh Bear says, “the forest will always be there, and anybody who’s friendly with bears can find it.”