Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Sherbrooke, Quebec, might not be the most exotic or exciting locales on the planet, but without the contributions of a pair of native sons, the globe-trotting, thrill-a-minute James Bond movie franchise might not exist.
With this month’s 50th anniversary of the release of “Dr. No” and the impending release of the 23rd Bond film, “Skyfall,” there’s a lot of attention focused on the inspiration of the enduring and evolving spy series. A body of evidence, including some newly uncovered documents, suggests two Canadians had an important influence on Ian Fleming, the man who wrote the Bond books.
Sir William Stephenson, known variously as “the quiet Canadian” or by the code name Intrepid, was arguably the single most important espionage figure in the Second World War, the man who helped create the CIA, and almost certainly Ian Fleming’s role model — minus the dashing womanizer aspect — for super spy Bond.
The young Stephenson rose from a delivery boy in working class Winnipeg to a flying ace in the First World War, to a rich inventor and businessman in England, where, through connections he made in British society, especially with Winston Churchill, became involved in the war effort.
As head of a bogus British passport office, the agent called “little Bill” for his short stature began setting up espionage operations that often involved the nifty gadgetry that is an essential part of every Bond movie. He established an ultra-secret spy training facility near Toronto, known as Camp X, and Ian Fleming was one of the trainees there.
Fleming and Stephenson would cross paths occasionally, once famously in New York City, as described by Winnipeg publisher Peter St. John, an expert on Bill Stephenson: “There Stephenson was, in a Manhattan skyscraper surrounded by wild electronic surveillance gadgetry, secret files and scores of beautiful women agents, a man equally at home with heads of state and paid assassins. The more Fleming learned about him, the more impressed he became.”