Doris and I, together with baby Nigel and fellow research student, Douglas Eyre got on a TWA Constellation plane at Heath Row about 4 pm on August 7th, 1954 and we were all emigrating together to Montreal, Canada. We landed at Glasgow for an evening meal and then departed en route to Keflavik in Iceland where we landed in daylight at about 3 am.
We were off the plane for about an hour and then proceeded to Montreal, narrowly missing another stop in New Foundland. The only thing of interest about the 17 hour journey was that Roger Bannister and Australian John Landy, both of whom had run a sub-four minute mile, were competing for the first time in a British Commonwealth meet in Vancouver. The captain was listening to the race and relayed a commentary on the race to us and we heard that Bannister had won.
We arrived at Montreal about 10am on August 8th and were met by a representative of L’Air Liquide, the company we were joining. He took us to a company apartment where we stayed until we could find our own accommodations.
We moved into an apartment in a relatively large apartment area of West Montreal which we were told was predominantly English. (We didn’t know how important that was until later.) We were advised to make sure the apartment we chose had an inside garage because we would not want to park our car outside in winter. Of course, we had no car but it turned out to be excellent advice.Doug Eyre became our paying lodger and had one of our two bedrooms. We had, at that time, six hundred Canadian dollars and we spent four hundred and fifty of them buying bedroom and kitchen furniture from the departing occupants.
We found that we could get to our office by taking a short bus ride to the train station and then to the heart of the city where our office was. At that time, we had no idea what that trip would be like in winter, waiting in the snow at that bus stop in minus twenty degree temperatures. This soon became routine for us but we gradually realized that we had to buy winter coats, a fur hat and ear muffs.
When the winter snow came we found that we had to walk to our grocery shop about a half mile from where we lived. Fortunately, the store had a delivery service and we could shop and pay and by the time we got home our groceries were there. We bought a sledge so that Doris could pull Nigel, bundled up like a mummy, on the store trips. The sidewalks were all swept but were ideal for the sledge.
Our roads were always well swept but this created mounds of snow on the sides of the road. We were told the day before if the main roads were going to be swept people kept their cars elsewhere because if you left them on the roadside they would be turned into a giant snow pile. If this happened and you did not immediately dig out your car, it would continually melt slightly and refreeze until it became an iceberg, useless until spring came.
Spring brought about a remarkable phenomenon called “Merde de Chien” weekend. This was when the last of the walls of snow finally melted and the dog poop which had been deposited and preserved in its original condition through the winter, finally melted into a nasty mess. No one went out this weekend until it got hosed away by the fire department. This was when I started thinking about getting a car.
Doug Eyre and I went to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles solely to get an information booklet about Canadian rules of the road. Doug had never driven or owned a car but he was, like me, planning to get one. There was a line of people waiting at the DMV and when we were allowed in, we were all shown to desks in a room and given an examination form. We were in the driving test department and we both decided we could learn what we needed by going along with the test.
Remarkably, we both passed this phase and were sent to a room with various devices for testing eye sight, reaction time and color blindness. Again remarkably, we both passed. The next phase was the actual driving test and Doug dropped out and said he would return on another day. I decided I had nothing to lose so I waited to be called. When my turn came, I was shown to a really big American car with the tester already installed. He told me to drive to the end of the road and stop. It was snowing hard and the roads were very slippery. I got to the stop sign at the end of the road and slowly skidded across the intersection. I stayed calm, pretended nothing unusual had happened and explained that I was used to a much smaller car. The tester told me to drive on. I hit the gas and spun out before I could proceed and we went on our way with many slips and slides.
When we got back, I was told that he could tell I knew how to drive and he was going to pass me if I promised to be lighter on the gas. I was able to do the paperwork and get my Canadian license. I continued to pretend my problems were all because of the high powered car. The end of this story is that Doug went back several times but got nervous and could never get past the testing equipment, one device in particular. The result was that in his entire life he never drove a car.
When we first went to our office, we were both shocked to find our boss was Dr. Adolf Trapp, the German engineer who made all of the liquid oxygen at Peenemunde, Germany for Dr. Wernher von Braun’s rocket program which was responsible for sending V-1 and V-2 exploding missiles to London in 1944. We had both suffered the indignity of these nasty devices and Adolf just laughed and said, “All the oxygen we made, we sent to London.”
We actually soon became good friends and taught each other lots of low temperature technology. Both Adolf and von Braun were brought to the USA in 1945 as part of a group of five hundred scientists and engineers under President Truman’s Operation Paperclip, a plan to prevent them being conscripted by the Russians. We worked on equipment and process design for the construction of very large air separation plants for the production of oxygen, nitrogen and argon for the steel and chemical industries in Canada and the US. We went on plant start-ups and customer coordination in both countries but that is another memory for another day.