Normally, Winnie-the-Pooh’s problems don’t occur beyond the edges of Hundred Acre Wood. And they typically involve him running out of honey, or getting stuck in honey pots.
But 22 years ago, the fictional bear found himself at the centre of a controversy involving the Walt Disney company and Canada Post.
The postal service decided to feature the storybook bear on a series of new stamps, which would highlight his Canadian heritage. (As many Winnie-the-Pooh fans will know, it was a Canadian soldier who brought a pet bear named Winnie to England — and that animal had an influence on the development of A.A. Milne’s classic storybook character.)
The problem for some was that one of the stamps, released that October for Stamp Collecting Month, showed Pooh sitting in front of an image of Walt Disney World — the location of which, as The Globe and Mail pointed out, was made explicitly clear by words on the bottom of the stamp.
The Disney company had controlled the rights to the Pooh characters since 1961.
Having the Disney theme park appearing on the stamp also rankled Simon de Jong, a New Democrat and the MP for Regina—Qu’Appelle.
“I think it’s a little too commercial,” said de Jong, when discussing his objection with CBC’sMidday in November of 1996.
While de Jong had no problem with “our beloved Winnie appearing on the stamps,” he questioned whether other big corporations’ logos or symbols could appear on Canadian stamps as well.
“Maybe Coca-Cola should also be offering some money to appear on a stamp,” de Jong suggested sarcastically.
“Perhaps we should be flying the McDonald’s flag on top of the Parliament buildings. I mean, where do you draw the line?”
De Jong said the tilt toward a more commercial arrangement was wrong.
“To have a foreign, commercial, private enterprise being exhibited on your stamps, I think, is a little too crass,” he said.
Sharing the story?
Canada Post, on the other hand, saw the deal with Disney as a way of sharing the story of Winnie-the-Pooh — including his Canadian roots — with many people around the world.
“It is a joint promotion, there’s no doubt about it, and at the same time, we’re getting a great deal from Disney because they’re opening up avenues we’ve never approached before,” said Tim McGurrin, a Canada Post spokesperson, when speaking with Midday.
“We’ve literally talked to thousands of journalists around the world about these stamps and we’re getting rave reviews from just about everybody.”
McGurrin said the stamps had been designed by Disney and proven popular with Canada Post’s customers, along with some related merchandise, including stuffed animals.
“The stuff has been selling like hotcakes,” he said.
But what about the ‘Canadian nationalists’?
When asked by Midday co-host Brent Bambury if Canada Post had anticipated criticism from “Canadian nationalists,” McGurrin admitted the postal service had expected some pushback.
“We did, and at the same time, we hoped that we would be able to explain our situation … and I believe that we have a very firm footing with the fact that we’re repatriating the bear,” said McGurrin.
“We’re bringing the bear’s legend back to Canada.”