Memorable Manitobans: William Samuel “Intrepid” Stephenson (1897-1989)

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William Stephanson
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Flying ace, spymaster, businessman.

Born William Samuel Clouston Stanger in Winnipeg on 23 January 1897, second child of William and Sarah Stanger, after his father passed away in 1901, he was adopted by Vigfus and Kristin Stephenson and grew up at 175 Syndicate Street in the Point Douglas area.

When the First World War broke out, he enlisted in the 101st Regiment, Royal Canadian Engineers, and, in mid-1916, sailed to Europe. In England, he served with the Royal Flying Corps, receiving the Military Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross, and was shot down and imprisoned by the Germans.

He soon returned to London and, in 1924, married American tobacco heiress Mary French Simmons (1901-1978). In the 1930s, he established the so-called Business Industrial Secret Service (BISS), which led to his first formal contact with the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). He provided information about German rearmament to the British intelligence before the Second World War.

In June 1940, he arrived in New York as the newly appointed Director of British Security Coordination (BSC). BSC was the de facto joint headquarters for British intelligence activities in the Western Hemisphere. He was instrumental in the creation, operation and supervision of Camp X near Coburg, Ontario, where agents were trained for British and the American intelligence organisation, including the Special Operations Executive.

Canada honoured Stephenson with the Companion of the Order of Canada (our country’s highest civilian award), and in 1985 he received the Manitoba Order of the Buffalo Hunt (Manitoba’s highest award at that time). For his services to the British Empire, he was knighted into the order of the Knights Bachelor. The Americans awarded him their Presidential Medal for Merit, thus becoming the first non-American to receive this award. Numerous other awards and honours are in his resumé, including honorary degrees from the University of Winnipeg (1979) and the University of Manitoba (1980).

In 1984, he was named the first Colonel Commandant (1982-1985) of the newly created Canadian Forces Intelligence Branch. He retired to Bermuda where, on 31 January 1989, he died. He was survived by his adopted daughter, Elizabeth, and her son Rhys.

He is commemorated by a statue in Memorial Park and William Stephenson Way in Winnipeg, and he was inducted posthumously into the Winnipeg Citizens Hall of Fame (2012). In 2020, the Government of Manitoba named Sir William Stevenson Lake in his honour. It is believed that he was the inspiration for writer Ian Flemming’s James Bond character.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Sir William S. Stephenson, 1897-1989 (Memorial Park, Winnipeg)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: William S. Stephenson Monument (Meade Street N, Winnipeg)

The True ‘Intrepid”: Sir William Stephenson and the Unknown Agents by Bill Macdonald (1998).

The Quiet Canadian by H. M. Hyde (1962).

Wild Bill and Intrepid: Donovan, Stephenson, and the origins of the CIA by Thomas Tory (1996).

“Chapter 10 (Sir William Stephenson)” by Bartley Kives, The Greatest Manitobans, Winnipeg Free Press, 2008.

The Intrepid Society


Birth registration, Manitoba Vital Statistics.

Mary French Simmons Stephenson, FindAGrave.

We thank David McDonald for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Paul Armstrong, Bill Macdonald, Gordon Goldsborough, and Robert Nash.

Page revised: 24 May 2024

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society. We acknowledge that the collection contains both reputable and disreputable people. All are worth remembering as a lesson to future generations.

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