The name’s Bond, James Bond. 

That one phrase says it all: tuxedos, martinis, Aston Martins, no other expression conveys such vivid imagery – except, perhaps, May the Force be with you.

Since the publication of Casino Royale in 1953, the adventures of British super spy James Bond have captivated literary and film audiences for decades, with the man himself becoming an indelible pop culture icon. But who was the real life James Bond? Where was James Bond born?

Would it surprise you if the answer was Winnipeg, Manitoba?

While the origins of Ian Fleming’s James Bond were shrouded in mystery for decades, many believe that the inspiration for 007 – the real life James Bond himself – was none other than one of the most famous Canadian spies of World War 2: Sir William Stephenson.

Sir William Stephenson Winnipeg Manitoba

The Quiet Canadian: Sir William Stephenson and World War 2

Born in poverty in Winnipeg, Stephenson went on to become an ace pilot in WWI, earning multiple medals for his valour. He even managed to escape from a German POW camp after his plane was shot down in enemy territory in 1918. Following the war, he became a millionaire entrepreneur and inventor, famed for creating a method of transferring photos through radio waves. 

However, with the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s, Stephenson worked with Winston Churchill to gather proof of Germany’s military build-up, which violated the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. 

As the world continued down the path to war, the quiet Canadian” became an important liaison between the British and Americans. He worked closely with President Roosevelt and General Wild Bill” Donovan to establish a new secret intelligence service: The Office of Strategic Services, which would go on to become the CIA

Under the code name Intrepid,” Stephenson worked tirelessly to combat the Nazi war machine, intercepting their communications, conducting counterintelligence operations, and recruiting and training spies. Most notably, he was personally involved in the Camp X program, a secret facility hidden in Whitby, Ontario where hundreds of covert agents were trained – including a naval intelligence officer named Ian Fleming. 

Sir William Stephenson and James Bond

Fleming was open about how his clandestine activities during the war inspired his writing. He generally attributed the character of James Bond to a combination of commandos and operatives he had met during the conflict. 

However, according to H. Montgomery Hyde’s Room 3603, Fleming himself admitted his creation was a highly romanticized version of the real life James Bond of Winnipeg: Sir William Stephenson. 

The man sitting alone now in his study in New York is so much closer to the spy of fiction, and yet so far removed from James Bond or Our Man in Havana’ that only the removal of the cloak of anonymity he has worn since 1940 allows us to realise to our astonishment that men of super-qualities can exist, and that such men can be super-spies and, by any standard, heroes,” Fleming wrote.

Such a man is the Quiet Canadian, otherwise Sir William Stephenson, M.C., D.F.C., known throughout the war to his subordinates and friends, and to the enemy, as Little Bill.’ He is the man who became one of the great secret agents of the last war, and it would be a foolish person who would argue his credentials; to which I would add, from my own experience, that he is a man of few words and has a magnetic personality and the quality of making anyone ready to follow him to the ends of the earth.” 

Sir William Stephenson Casino Royale James Bond of Winnipeg

According to many accounts, Fleming was enthralled by his association with Sir William Stephenson during World War 2. Not only was Intrepid one of the most famous Canadian spies, but his penchant for technology and high-tech gadgetry matched Fleming’s own – not to mention their shared taste for martinis.

Fleming found himself involved in a number of Stephenson’s operations, many of which inspired 007’s own adventures. For instance, one caper involving the infiltration of a Japanese Consulate in the Rockefeller Center is quite similar to a chapter in Casino Royale. Likewise, Goldfinger’s daring plan to rob Fort Knox was reportedly based on Stephenson’s planned operation to raid an enemy gold reserve.

The two remained close friends even after the war, visiting each other’s Jamaican estates frequently.

Though he didn’t possess a licence to kill – and he didn’t look like Daniel Craig – the real James Bond was just as intrepid as the fictional character he inspired. A true spy to the end, Stephenson avoided the public eye, refusing to even accept a salary for his wartime services. He passed away peacefully in 1989, at the age of 92.

William Stephenson Statue Winnipeg Leo Mol

Image by David Nyhof Dvdnyhf via Wikipedia.

On the Trail of James Bond in Winnipeg

In recent years, Winnipeg has truly embraced its connection to James Bond and one of the most famous Canadian spies. Not only does a public library in the city bear Sir William Stephenson’s name, but they renamed a major street after him as well. If you visit the Manitoba Legislature Building, you can see a life-size statue of Stephenson in his youth, proudly wearing his flight suit. 

Wondering about the city where James Bond was born? Learn more about some of Winnipeg’s great attractions.

Special thanks to the staff at the Econo Lodge in Winnipeg, MB for their suggestions.

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