Living in the Annex, a Canadian Experience

My name is Gertrude J. (Johnson) Stephens of Spanish Fort, Alabama.  In January of 1954, I was assigned to the U.S. Liaison Office of the Atomic Energy Commission at Chalk River, Ont., as administrative assistant.  My reception was cold – 40 degrees below zero; after having dinner in the village with a friend, I stepped in a deep snow bank and got frostbite in my right ankle.  I had a car which needed to be plugged into an electrical outlet.  Before I could access an outlet, I had to get the engine adapted for it.  Meanwhile, the block froze and I paid $300 for repairs. The outlet was well used in winter. 

  Like other single people, I lived in a room on the second floor of the Staff Hotel Annex, across the street from the main hotel which had accommodation for visiting dignitaries as well as for single employees. In the evenings, we would gather in someone’s room for a wonderful time of swapping stories, sharing memories and enjoying our leisure time with others. Warm and lasting friendships were formed.  In the unmonitored Annex, there was some hanky panky, but not much because people were up and down the halls all the time.  Once a Peeping Tom was caught.

Each work day we rode a bus from the main hotel to the Chalk River plant and return.  One morning we saw a moose running down the fairway of the golf course.  How about that – seeing a moose play golf!  Sometimes groups of us would walk 3 miles to a restaurant to eat, or just stroll in the snow on a moonlit night.  In the summer, there were canoe trips on the river.  We saw spectacular displays of Northern Lights and the brilliant red and yellow fall colours in autumn.

Gertrude Stevens on rjght, with Doris Hand
and Gene Hess, 1956
I must mention my good friend John Melvin, who immediately dubbed me “Magnolia”. I believe he had seen magnolias when he worked at the Savannah River site in Georgia.  Magnolias are native trees in my part of the country and have beautiful blossoms.  The one in my yard was destroyed in a hurricane several years ago.  Other great friends are Marg and Iain Crocker, with whom I’ve kept in touch through the years.  Some years ago I had the pleasure of a visit from them, when they were on a trip to the U.S.

During my three and a half years working at Chalk River, I worked, played and commiserated with many smart and intelligent people, and met many dignitaries who visited the plant. One of these was Rear Admiral  Hyman Rickover.  After one of his visits, I was at the main hotel desk making arrangements to get home on vacation.  He and his Aide came to pay their bill, and in conversation, he asked if I had delayed my vacation because of his trip. When I told him I had, he asked how I was to get home. When I replied that I would take the bus 5 miles to the train, and the train 150 miles to the plane, he said, “Get in that car”.  I rode with them all the way to the airport in Ottawa. All the way, he made just regular small talk, mostly about the birds and the bees, and tried to match me up with his Aide.

After my term in Canada, I transferred to Buenos Aires in Argentina, just after the overthrow of the Peronista Dictatorship.  Mr. Frondizi had been elected President and the military were still patrolling.  One morning going to work, a lady acquaintance and I stopped for a moment to exchange greetings. Out of nowhere came a soldier with a bayonet pointed at us. We were told to move (vamos) and we did.

I have had great experiences and the opportunity to see many places, for which I am forever grateful.

 Gertrude J. Stevens

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