The Gouzenko Affair

The Gouzenko Affair is one of Canada’s most well-known civil rights-related events, and has been credited as a triggering factor for the Cold War.

Igor Gouzenko was born in 1919 in a village not far from Moscow. At the beginning of World War II, Gouzenko joined the military service and trained as a cipher clerk. In 1943, he was stationed in Ottawa, Canada, given the task of deciphering incoming messages and enciphering outgoing messages for the GRU. His position gave him access to Soviet espionage activities around the globe, especially in the West.

In 1945, after hearing that he and his family were to be sent home to the Soviet Union, Gouzenko who was clearly happier with the quality of life and politics in Canada rather than in his homeland, decided to defect. He did so with 109 documents documenting the Soviet’s espionage activities in the West.

Though he didn’t want to get involved for fearing of escalating tensions between the Soviets and Canada, the then Prime Minister Mackenzie King called a Royal Commission in order to investigate espionage in Canada.

The results of that investigation? Gouzenko proved that there was, in fact, a very active Russian spy ring in Canada, and the investigation exposed Joseph Stalin’s efforts to steal nuclear secrets from the government, using the then-unknown technique of planting sleeper agents. The evidence that Gouzenko provided led to the arrest of 39 suspects, of whom 18 were eventually convicted. Some of the more notable suspects were Fred Rose, the member of Parliament in the Canadian House of Commons, Sam Carr, the Communist Party’s national organizer, and scientist Raymond Boyer.

The type of espionage, using the technique of planting sleeper agents, became a plot devise in a number of cold war movies. The most notable being “The Iron Curtain”, directed by William Wellman, with screenplay by Milton Krims, and starring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney as Igor and Anna Gouzenko. it was produced by Twentieth Century Fox in 1948. The film was shot in the actual Canadian locales and used original documents of the Embassy. If anyone has the actual vintage movie memorabilia from this film, including the poster advertising it, there are collectors who buy and sell movie posters who would be very interested in appraising them. If you find the words “Portal Publications” marked on the poster it means that it is a movie poster reproductions that was printed in the 1970s. Unfortunately collectors would not be interested in purchasing such a poster. However, if the movie memorabilia is authentic,it is well worth the trouble to have it appraised.

For fear of retribution from the Soviets, who indeed wanted to find him to “keep him quiet”, Gouzenko had to wear a “bag-like” thing over his head to protect his anonymity. He and his family were secretly relocated, and had their identities changed.

Using cash for structured settlement payments he received from the Canadian government, Gouzenko and his family were able to settled down to a middle-class existence living under the assumed name of George Brown in the Toronto suburb of Clarkson. Here he and his wife were able to raise their eight children. Although he died in 1983 of a heart attack, his children did not put up a grave stone until 2002. The man who created “the first major international event of the Cold War” and the role he played was forgotten until a history enthusiast by the name of Andrew Kavchak in 1999 started lobbying the City of Ottawa and the federal government to unveil historic commemorative plaques in Dundonald Park to honor Igor and Svetlana Gouzenko. With a tenacious determination it took five years, but Andrew Kavchak’s dream of official markers in Dundonald Park to note the heroism of Igor and Svetlana Gouzenko is now a reality. Visitors to Dundonald Park can enjoy and learn about the Gouzenko Affair, its impact on the history of counter-intelligence, and the Cold War.

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