Posts Tagged With: william stephenson

There is Winnipeg Mennonite Fiction!

He got it wrong! In March I took a course called Winnipeg Fact and Fiction from Roland Penner octogenarian story-teller extraordinaire. One class was about the contributions immigrant families have made to the city.  Penner was right in asserting that immigrants and their children helped put Winnipeg on the map. Just  look at people like ………….

Manitoba Theatre Centre founder John Hirsch who was a war orphan from Hungary

Sculptor Leo Mol who came to Canada from Ukraine in 1948

Politician Stanley Knowles who immigrated to Canada from Los Angeles with his parents in the early 1900s.  Intrepid war hero William Stephenson, Winnipeg’s own James Bond, whose parents were immigrants from Iceland and Scotland. 

and comedian David Steinberg born in Winnipeg to Romanian immigrant parents. 

The purpose of the course Winnipeg Fact and Fiction was to introduce a topic about Winnipeg history and then suggest one or two companion novels that might shed an interesting perspective on that theme.  Our teacher Roland Penner got it wrong when he recommended Fredelle Maynard’s book Raisins and Almonds as his top fiction pick reflecting the Winnipeg immigrant experience.

Raisins and Almonds tells the story of a young girl growing up on the Canadian prairies as the child of Jewish immigrants from Russia. The first problem I have with Roland Penner choosing this book is that it’s not fiction, but Maynard’s memoirs. Secondly, although there are a some pages in the book devoted to life in Winnipeg the majority of the stories are set in the small Canadian prairie towns where Fredelle’s family moved in hopes of finding one where her father’s mercantile business would be successful. 

Someone in the class asked Roland if he could recommend fiction books that would represent the Mennonite immigrant experience in Winnipeg and he said there weren’t any. He claimed since Mennonites settled primarily in the rural areas of Manitoba, if there was any fiction about their immigrant experience it wouldn’t be set in Winnipeg. He was wrong. 

Dora Dueck’s novel This Hidden Thing, winner of last year’s McNally Robinison Book of the Year award, is definitely fiction and is set almost solely in Winnipeg. It tells the story of young Mennonite girls who came to live in Winnipeg to work as maids in the homes of wealthy people in order to help pay the money their families owed to the Canadian Pacific Railway. The CPR had financed loans to make it possible for Mennonites to come to Canada from Ukraine.  Maria, the main character in Dueck’s novel, spends almost her entire life in Winnipeg after immigrating from Ukraine as a teenager.  

Penner is also wrong when he says there weren’t many Mennonite immigrants in Winnipeg. By the 1920’s six Mennonite churches had already been established in the city and by the 1950’s there were 7000 Mennonites living in Winnipeg. 

I’d like to find out if there are any other novels set primarily in Winnipeg that reflect the experience of Mennonite immigrants. 

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James Bond is From Winnipeg

Ian Fleming the author of the James Bond novels once said,”James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing is … William Stephenson.” Walking down Memorial Boulevard this week I photographed this statue of William Stephenson and when I got home I did a little research. I was surprised to find that Stephenson was a Winnipeg native, born right here in the Point Douglas area where I live. He taught math and science at the University of Manitoba and before he died  he bequeathed $100,000 to the University of Winnipeg to fund scholarships for outstanding students. Winnipeg has an official fan club for Stephenson called The Intrepid Society. As part of their agenda they’ve successfully lobbied to have a street in Winnipeg named after their hero and a statue of him installed in CIA headquarters in Washington. DC. A public library in Winnipeg also bears his name.  

As this plaque on his sculpture indicates, William’s code name was Intrepid when he worked for British intelligence in New York during World War II. A book about his life titled A Man Called Intrepid was a best seller and later was turned into  a TV mini-series starring David Niven and Barbara Hershey. 

Orphaned as a young child and then adopted, William was fascinated with Morse code as a teenager and was good at boxing.  He served as a pilot during World War I and was shot down and captured by the Germans. He managed to escape after three months and won several medals for bravery. Stephenson went on to study at Oxford University. 

William accomplished many significant and impressive things in the next couple decades. After teaching at the University of Manitoba he moved to Britain where he invented the process for sending photographs over the wire electronically, purchased a radio manufacturing company that made him a millionaire before he was thirty, and then diversified into film, coal and oil refining, the steel industry, television and aircraft production. He helped to found the British Broadcasting Corporation. (BBC)

He obviously wasn’t looking for a job when Winston Churchill asked him to become the head of British security in New York coordinating counter-espionage efforts together with the Americans. He hired hundreds of people to work for him, many of them Canadians and he paid for their salaries out of his own pocket. He set up a school in Whitby Ontario that trained more than 2000 covert operators including Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books. 

The sculpture of William Stephenson on Memorial Boulevard, was created by renowned Winnipeg sculptor Leo Mol and was unveiled by Princess Anne in 1999.

 I found a clip from the film version of The Man Called Intrepid on You Tube. I’d like to get a copy of the entire thing and watch it. I had no idea the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond came from Winnipeg.

Categories: Downtown, Famous Citizens, Statues | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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