Fast cars, explosive gadgets and martinis (shaken, not stirred). These are just a few of the things most of us associate with James Bond. Agent 007 has dutifully served his royal majesty, as well as movie-goers from around the world, for nearly 60 years, and the iconic imagery of more than 25 films is ingrained into our collective consciousness. Dashing tuxedos, undersea hideouts, maple syrup...
Wait, maple syrup? That doesn't sound right. If James Bond is quintessentially anything, it's British, right? Well, if you're to believe Sir Ian Flemming — the guy who created James Bond and wrote the original novels and short stories — the real-life master spy these tales are based on was a Canadian man, from Winnipeg.
The Name's Stephenson, William Stephenson
During the World War I, a 21-year-old Canadian boy named William Stephenson became a flying ace after shooting down twelve enemy aircraft as a member of Britain's Royal Air Force. Unfortunately, he was soon after shot down himself, crashing his plane behind enemy lines in July, 1918. For most men, the story would end with an eventual release from some German prison, but not for the man who would inspire James Bond. Just three months after his capture, Stephenson escaped and made his way back to the safety of an allied camp.
How can we be sure that this Winnipegger was the inspiration for Agent 007? Take it from Ian Flemming's own words: "James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing... is William Stephenson."
While Stephenson's achievements as a war pilot are impressive, and his subsequent escape from German captivity sets the stage for a great story, it's what he accomplished after the Great War that would influence much of James Bond's world of high-tech gizmos and covert operations. When he got back home to Winnipeg, Stephenson decided to get into the hardware business, allegedly inspired by a can opener he stole from his POW camp. He would go on to become something of an inventor, filing patents and manufacturing devices ranging from a wireless image transmitter to parts for airplanes and automobiles.
When the Second World War began, Stephenson had already been voluntarily feeding information to the Brits about German armaments and the Enigma machine, using his business contracts to gain intelligence on Germany's buildup to war. After fighting broke out, Winston Churchill had Stephenson coordinate all British overseas espionage activities in the Western Hemisphere, including a secret base, at home in Canada, where agents were trained to conduct missions in enemy territory.
Though Sir William Stephenson died in 1989, his legacy will never be forgotten. His own accomplishments were as brilliant as they were many, but it's thanks to 007's daring on-screen adventures that this son of Winnipeg will always be associated with the greatest spy of all time.
A History of Innovation and Excellence
One thing that is surely shared between Bond and Stephenson is their love for gadgets of all sorts. With the humble beginning of Stephenson's stolen can opener, it's amazing to see the array of high-tech gizmos employed in 007's repertoire, from cameras embedded in rings to a remote-controlled, robot dog. Perhaps most iconic of all are the Omega watches worn on-screen since 1995's Goldeneye. The real-world versions might not fire steel-melting lasers at the press of a button, but IJL's OMEGA James Bond watches certainly complete the look of a dapper gentleman.
With the latest Bond film, No Time To Die, coming in 2021, remember the Winnipeg roots of Daniel Craig's on-screen persona. When you think of the world's greatest spy making a brazen escape from enemy territory, know that William Stephenson is the man who actually did it. He may or may not have had the same comedic timing as the version on the big screen, but being a Canadian, he was most likely very polite about it.