________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 5 . . . . October 28, 2005


Canadian Spies and Spies in Canada: Undercover at Home & Abroad. (Great Canadian Stories).

Peter Boer.
Edmonton, AB: Folklore Publishing, 2005.
142 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 1-894864-29-8.

Subject Headings:
Spies-Canada-History-20th century.
Espionage-Canada-History-20th century.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Thomas F. Chambers.

* /4


It was June 1943, and the 24-year-old Russian was on a layover in Edmonton, Alberta, waiting for the train that would take on the final leg of his journey to Ottawa. He was a cipher clerk, a lieutenant in the Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravleniye (GRU), the military intelligence branch of the Red Army of the Soviet Union. Having completed an uncomfortable journey over the Atlantic Ocean by plane, he and several of his comrades were on their way to a new posting at the Soviet Embassy. During his wait, as he explored the area around the train station, he stumbled across a grocery store. His eyes popped at the sheer quantity of fresh fruit, and he quickly stocked up on oranges, spending the remainder of his travel allowance. He feasted on them throughout the train trip to Ottawa, haphazardly discarding the peels, laughing as oranges spilled from the crate and rolled along the aisles of the passenger car.


Canadian Spies and Spies in Canada discusses the careers of six spies, as well as the roles of Camp X, Canada's spy school created during the Second World War and Joint Task Force Two, Canada's elite anti-terrorism squad that was assigned special duties in Afghanistan after the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001. There are some exciting stories in the book, but, on the whole, much of the material lacks the excitement usually associated with espionage. A case in point is Werner Alfred Waldemar Von Janowski, a German spy who was deposited off the Gaspé coast by submarine. The subsequent discussion about turning him into a double agent can only be described as boring. Very little happened.

     A book on spies is hard to research. The nature of their work means that many spies live and die anonymously. To become notorious means that a spy has failed and his or her activities have become public, not a good thing when publicity can lead to death. In the introduction, the author provides some interesting reasons why people turn to espionage. As with the individuals themselves, the reasons are many and varied. There are no diplomas or degrees in espionage, and spies learn their craft in many ways.

     Author, Peter Boer has a graduate degree in journalism and is a reporter with the St. Albert, AB, Gazette. This is the third book he has had published by Folklore Publishing.

     The chapters in Canadian Spies and Spies in Canada vary considerably in their interest level. “Canada's Secret Spy School,” Chapter 3, is exciting from start to finish. Those on the German spy, Janowski, and several of the other spies, on the other hand, are the exact opposite. There does not appear to be enough material to make an exciting book. Canadian Spies and Spies in Canada is not recommended either for classroom use or for recreational reading.

     In the chapter on William Stephenson, codenamed Intrepid, the man who set up the spy school, Camp X, Boer does not give all the facts. He writes "the U.S. agreed to lease 50 retired destroyers to the Royal Navy for convoy duty, as well as one million rifles and 100 Flying Fortress bombers." While this is true, what he neglected to say was that, in return, Britain allowed the U.S. the use of British bases. This included a 99-year lease on Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula on which the Americans built a naval and air base at Argentia. Mentioning only one half of the deal gives a false impression.

     Some of the details Boer does include are puzzling. One concerns the Soviet cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko, the subject in the excerpt quoted above. Why was he in Edmonton if he had "just completed an uncomfortable journey over the Atlantic" and was now on his "way to a new posting----in Ottawa"? This doesn't make sense. Similar confusion concerns the German spy Janowski. After telling about his arrival in the Gaspé, Boer writes "two minesweepers were ordered into the Bay of Fundy to look for the submarine that had delivered the spy." It is unlikely that the sub would have reached the Bay of Fundy in two days as Boer suggests. This is a long journey beneath the sea. It would probably still have been in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A third example occurs in “Long Knife,” Chapter 5. When discussing the Soviet spy, Gideon, Boer writes that he "boarded a plane from Montréal to Brazil. After a brief layover, he connected to a flight to Helsinki, Finland, and from there flew to Moscow". It would have made more sense to just say that Gideon was recalled to Moscow. Montréal-Brazil-Helsinki is not the most direct route to fly to Moscow, and it is hard to believe anyone would travel that way.

     There are no photographs in Canadian Spies and Spies in Canada and no index. The only reference aid is the “Notes on Sources.” These will be helpful for anyone wishing to learn more about Canada's spies and those from other countries who spied on Canada.

Not Recommended.

Thomas F. Chambers of North Bay, ON, is a retired college teacher.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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