From time to time we hear of Winnipeggers that have achieved success from humble beginnings and we feel proud. One of those is William Stephenson – the spy whose wartime code name was Intrepid
Although a small man —only five-foot-five inches tall — Stephenson was an enormous presence in a world torn by strife. Born in Point Douglas in 1896, he captured the grateful admiration of the United States and Great Britain with his amazing contributions during the First and Second World Wars.
Young William attended Argyle Elementary School and when war was declared in 1914, he joined the Canadian army and was eventually transferred to Royal Flying Corps, where he became a fighter pilot and wartime flying ace. He was awarded many citations and medals for his skill and bravery.
After the First World Ward ended, he continued his education at the University of Manitoba. Soon after, having moved back to the U.K. his brilliant mind conceived a process that was able to transmit wire photos across the world — an invention that revolutionized the newspaper industry. Stephenson married an American woman, moved to the United States to market his creation and became extremely wealthy. He travelled the globe and forged many contacts who proved to be valuable assets during the Second World War.
Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond spy novels, said he used the real life Intrepid as a model for many of his character’s daring escapades.
Through his web of spies, Stephenson was lauded for discovering the existence of the Enigma code machine, used by the Nazis to send vital information. When the Royal Navy retrieved one from a German U-boat, a team worked tirelessly to crack the code, a feat that was said to have shortened the war by several years and saved countless lives.
England’s prime minister, Winston Churchill chose Stephenson to head a special New York City bureau that enabled men and women to infiltrate behind enemy lines in Europe. Stephenson also organized a “spy camp” in Oshawa, Ont., to train people in the latest espionage techniques.
A plaque honoring the spymaster and detailing his amazing history can be found in Joe Zuken Park in Point Douglas. The area also contains Ross House, the first post office in Canada, named after builder and postmaster Alexander Ross.
As one of Manitoba’s most famous citizens, Stephenson, who died in 1989, deserves a lot more recognition.