Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sepia Saturday -The Quiet Canadian

Sir William Stephenson (1896-1989)

My home town in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada isn't famous for much except for being flat and really when we find something to crow about - we do it. Monte Hall and Gisele McKenzie were born there and when I work that into a conversation (not very easy) the usual response is "Who??"

I discovered recently that Sir William Stephenson was born in Winnipeg and spent his formative years there. Although not exactly a household name, Stephenson accomplished much including laying the building bricks for modern espionage..what a life unfolded from a humble beginning on the Canadian prairies! When I get the "Who??" question about him, here's some of the facts from the Canadian Encyclopedia:

"Stephenson flew as a fighter pilot in WW1, winning several medals for bravery. While a student at the University of Manitoba, he invented the wirephoto and then a radio facsimile method of transmitting pictures without need of telephone, earned a fortune and an entree to influential political circles in London."

At the beginning of WW11, Stephenson was placed in charge of British security coordination in the Western Hemisphere, with headquarters in New York City where the telegraphic address was INTREPID - later popularized as Stephenson's code name. His organizations activities ranged form censoring transatlantic mail, breaking letter codes and forging diplomatic documents to obtaining Vichy French and Italian military codes, protecting against sabotage of American factories producing munitions for Britain and training allied agents for surreptitious entry into nazi occupied Europe.

Although Stephenson was knighted by King George Vl and awarded the US Medal for Merit not much was known about his war services until the publication of H. Montgomery Hyde's The Quiet Canadian (1962). The claims made regarding Stephenson's career have been treated with reserve by professional historians and experts on intelligence. Stephenson lived in the  W. Indies after WW11 becoming chairman of the Caribbean Development Corp and eventually retiring in Bermuda.


  1. I'm glad to know about Sir Stephenson. It seems a shame that people like that can disappear from our consciousness at the same time that we keep up on all the details of tv celebrities' lives.

  2. Very interesting. Now I want to see the movie. Or read the books.