'Spy from P.E.I.' Cliff Stewart dies

Funeral Wednesday for Second World War veteran

Published on May 16, 2011
Cliff Stewart poses with a Lysander during an airshow in 2010. Stewart died Saturday in his Sherwood home at age 91.
Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

Clifton Elmer Stewart, better known as Cliff, a Canadian spy recruited by the British during the Second World War, died over the weekend at his Sherwood home.

Known by his catchphrase, “the spy from P.E.I.,” Stewart was also the Sherwood fire chief for a number of years and a Holland College instructor.

Stewart, 91, died on Saturday, May 14.

His work during the Second World War was honoured by the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) during a fly-in event at Slemon Park in Summerside last summer.

One of the aircrafts, a restored Lysander that hadn’t been flown in 64 years, was dedicated to Stewart. It was the same style of plane he flew in during missions in the Second World War.

Flying into enemy territory, the plane would drop off Stewart, who would set up radio communications. The plane would turn around and Stewart would grab onto the aircraft’s moving strut, which would carry him back to safety.

The five or six trips in Europe on the Lysander, which Stewart described last summer, are the bulk of what little is known about Stewart’s missions. He was bound by an oath of secrecy under the British Secrets Act.

Tom Stewart, Cliff’s oldest son, said the air show and honour of the restored Lysander kept his father going throughout his final year.

“One of the things that got him through, was looking forward to that event in June,” he said. “He had a glow for the month after.”

But Stewart’s life didn’t begin or end with the Second World War.

He was born and raised in P.E.I., only leaving the province during the war years to live in New York and Camp X in Ontario.

He married Hilda Jewell in 1942 and, when he returned to P.E.I. in the late 1940s, he began working at the Batt and MacRae Auto Electric Company in Charlottetown.

He also became involved as a volunteer in the Sherwood Fire Department around the late 1950s, eventually becoming chief for more than 10 years throughout the 1970s and ’80s.

Stewart’s summers were often spent at a cottage he’d built in York Point.

Tom said his father could often be seen at the cottage, taking others for rides in his boat.

“I’d say there were probably 500 people who learned to water ski from him,” he said. “He had that boat since the 1970s and it’s found hundreds of people in it.”

His passion for boats led him to a volunteer job fixing watercrafts with Stu Smith.

Tom said his father was known for being a go-to guy when anything had to be fixed.

“Anything from radios to TVs to video recorders,” he said. “His nature was that, if anybody needed anything fixed, he was the person people came to. It seemed he could fix anything.”

Stewart’s passion for fixing things led him to another job, where he showed others how to make repairs.

In the 1980s, past the age of 60, Stewart became an instructor in automotive and electrical repairs at Holland College.

Stewart kept working past retirement age and held a job at D.C.D. Auto Electric until just after turning 90.

Tom said his father loved to work and felt that staying active and the relationships he developed with co-workers are what kept him going.

“He loved life, he found being involved in things and other people’s lives, in terms of being able to help out.”

Stewart is resting at the Belvedere Funeral Home, where the funeral will be held on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

Visitation is Tuesday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m.

Memorial donations may be made to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Charlottetown Branch #1 of the Royal Canadian Legion will hold a service of remembrance at the funeral home Tuesday at 6:45 p.m.