Katherine Wheatley

Monday, June 26, 2006


Ever hear of the Quiet Canadian? Or Camp X? Or Sir William Stephenson?

I didn’t until a few weeks ago when I did a show to celebrate the first year anniversary of the Sir William Stephenson Public School in Whitby, Ontario. I was a bit puzzled as to why I was asked to perform at the celebration. Turns out they wanted me to sing my song “On a Beach in France” (about the battle of Dieppe) to honour the unusual war hero for whom the school was named.

If you haven’t heard of Sir William Samuel Stephenson, perhaps you’re familiar with his wartime intelligence codename, Intrepid. Stephenson was a Canadian soldier, fighter pilot and prisoner of war during WW1. In WW2, he was the senior representative of British intelligence for the entire western hemisphere. In Whitby, Ontario, he set up and directed CAMP X - a training school for military intelligence services.

Among the students at Camp X were Kim Philby, Sterling Hayden, five future directors of the CIA, and the creator of James Bond - Ian Fleming. The Times, October 1962, quotes Fleming as saying "James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing is ...William Stephenson".

So I went to my gig at the elementary school in Whitby, not knowing a thing about William Stephenson and not quite sure why I’d been asked. As soon as I entered the school, I got a good feeling. I noticed that the architecture was inspired. The floor tiles were beautifully arranged and slightly random. The darker tiles marked an “X” just inside the front doors.

The clean, wide hallway was packed with well dressed teachers, parents, students and military personel. A high heeled lady with long black hair immediately helped me with my guitar and said “you must be Katherine. You need to speak to Mark, the principal”. She pointed to the smiley guy playing the upright piano in the front foyer. I was starting to think, “wow, this is an unusual school indeed”.

The celebration was compelling. The students performed a few numbers from their latest musical - Little Orphan Annie. The choir sang “Rise Again”. I performed my song. The architecture firm who designed the school announced that they would be giving an annual scholarship to the top grade 8 Art student for private art lessons. And there were speeches.
That’s how I learned about Camp X, William Stephenson and why he was called the Quiet Canadian. (He never revealed secrets. All the agents trained at Camp X were sworn to secrecy for their entire lives. The few living veterans of Camp X still won’t reveal what really went on. Hmmm?)

So, today, a few weeks later, I wanted to write about William Stephenson and Camp X - here, on my website, for two reasons:

First, there’s an interesting co-incidence that happened a few days after I learned about Camp X. I was sharing the stage with Alex Sinclair at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Ottawa. It had only been 3 days since I’d done the William Stephenson gig, so I thought I’d mention what I’d learned there as part of my ‘patter’. I started the story by asking “Anyone ever hear of Camp X”? Well - Alex’s hand, plus all the hands from pews 9 and 10, where his relatives were sitting, went up. Turns out that Alex’s great grandfather owned the farm that was “confiscated” to build Camp X. Quel coincidence!

Second, I wanted to point out that one of the best parts of my job is the discoveries I make about the different places I play. Sault Ste. Marie is home to the Esposito brothers and Roberta Bondar. Vegreville claims the world’s largest pysanka (easter egg). Ringette was invented in Espanola. And Whitby Ontario is where William Stephenson, the Quiet Canadian, code name Intrepid, built Camp X.

Check it out if you like: www.camp-x.com

As usual, any thoughts, facts, corrections, comments are welcome.
All my best, Katherine


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