Street named for WW II spy hero

A Winnipeg street has been renamed for a local man who became a legendary Second World War and inspired the fictional James Bond.
Sir William Samuel Stephenson's covert operations during the Second World War have been cited as a decisive factor in the Allied victory. ((Intrepid Society))
A Winnipeg street has been renamed for a local man who became a legendary Second World War spy known as Intrepid — an inspiration for the fictional spook James Bond.

Water Avenue, which links Main Street to the Provencher Bridge, was officially renamed William Stephenson Way on Sunday.

"Finally, there is some tangible recognition for him in a noteworthy place in Winnipeg," said Kristin Stefansson, a distant cousin of Stephenson.

"The fact it's going to be by the Human Rights Museum is another thing that I think is really important, because he did end up helping with causes of freedom around the world."

The renaming ceremony was held Sunday afternoon at the intersection of Water and Main. Deputy mayor Justin Swandel, who officiated the event, was joined by Stefansson as well as representatives from the Canadian Forces, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the U.S. army and Winnipeg's Intrepid Society.

"It's a great day to be alive and free in the peace-loving country of Canada, and in large part we owe that freedom to the man we're honouring here today — his efforts and accomplishments in the world of intelligence and what they have done for the security of this planet," Swandel said.

William Samuel Stephenson was born in Winnipeg's Point Douglas neighbourhood on Jan. 23, 1897.

As a Canadian soldier, airman and spymaster, Stephenson became the senior representative of British intelligence for the Western Hemisphere during the Second World War.

Winnipeg's Water Avenue was officially renamed William Stephenson Way on Sunday. ((CBC))

The telegraphic address of his office was INTREPID, which was later popularized as his code name.

His organization's activities ranged from censoring transatlantic mail, breaking letter codes (which exposed at least one German spy in the United States), forging diplomatic documents, obtaining military codes, protecting against sabotage of Allied factories and training Allied agents, according to the Intrepid Society, a group dedicated to honouring and sustaining Stephenson's memory.

Stephenson was also a radio pioneer who helped develop a way of transmitting photographs around the world. But it was his espionage work that garnered the most fame. Some suggest his covert operations in the Second World War were a decisive factor in the Allied victory.

Author Ian Fleming has credited Stephenson as being an inspiration for James Bond.

In an interview with the Times newspaper in 1962, Fleming said: "James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing is … William Stephenson."

Helped create CIA

Stephenson also played a key role in the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency in the United States.

As Winston Churchill's personal representative to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the war, Stephenson became a close advisor to FDR and suggested he put William J. Donovan in charge of all U.S. intelligence services.

Donovan, a good friend of Stephenson, founded the U.S. wartime Office of Strategic Services, which eventually became the CIA.

Donovan later said, "Bill Stephenson taught us all we ever knew about foreign intelligence," according to the Intrepid Society.

For his wartime work, Stephenson was knighted in 1945. In his homeland, Stephenson was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1979.

He died on Jan. 31, 1989, in Paget, Bermuda, at age 93.