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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

19 November 2013


Old Canoe Master
George Leis, 1950,
University of WA.

Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©
"As the east wind blows in off Lake Washington, kicking up whitecaps on Union Bay, there are creaking noises in the time-worn joints of the ancient University of WA canoe house.
      You think it's just the grinding of wood on wood as the old building sways ever so gently in the breeze.
      But the Old Canoe Master will tell you differently. You must wait quietly until a strong puff of wind finds its way in again. Then, if you shut your eyes and listen, you will hear them––not a creaking, after all, but a sound of hollow pattering, as of many feet tripping in unison down a wooden ramp. Above the pattering, there is something else––a sing-song murmuring of happy boy-and-girl voices. They are voices of University generations long gone, of boys and girls who gayly trod the old planking in decades past.
      Just as these voices fade, when you return to reality, so will the old canoe house melt soon into memory. The canoes will be operating out of another location, the former Univ. shellhouse on Lk. Washington Canal a short distance east of Montlake Bridge.
      This weekend George Leis, in his 37th year as manager of the canoe house, and his wife, Cora, are scheduled to move from their apartment on the second floor of the old building to newly finished quarters in the former shellhouse.
      Al Ulbrickson, the crew coach; George Pocock, veteran shell builder, and the Husky rowing crews already have moved out of the shellhouse into their spanking new oarsmen's palace on Union Bay.
      It's sort of a trade about. The new Hiram Conibear Shellhouse has been constructed almost right on top of and is crowding out the old canoe house. That's one reason the silvery-thatched Leis is moving––another is that the old roof over the Leises and the 50-canoe fleet is not much more than just a roof.
      'As to what will happen to the old canoe house when we move out, nobody knows', Leis said.
      The lumber in the dilapidated building is so badly warped, Leis explained, that it is probably unfit for any further use, except perhaps as a 'good bunch of kiln-dried firewood.
      George Leis will miss the old hangout more than he cares to tell. This won't be the first time that the canoe-house location has changed––it will the fourth. But always before, Leis has had he old building accompany him when he moved.
      The original site of the canoe house he says, was near the present East 45th St viaduct, at about 25th Ave NE––before the canal was cut through, when the waters of Union Bay had greater depth and covered a larger area.
      Canoeists could paddle right across E 45th St to Ravenna Park in those days. But when the canal was opened the waters of Lk Washington were lowered c. nine feet.
      The second location was a little farther south––near where the University powerhouse now stands. And before  WWI, the canoe house made still another 'voyage'––with Leis at the helm––to the northshore of Portage Bay at the foot of 17th Ave NE––where the Oceanographic Lab and dock are situated now.
      Last move for the old canoehouse (except maybe as salvage, firewood or broken-up souvenir pieces) was in 1932, when it was shifted to the present location, just east of the Edmundson Athletic Pavilion.
      Leis estimates that since he took charge of the University's bulrush-surrounded Moonlight & Romance Research Dept in 1913, more than 300,000 persons have gone canoeing.
      Most of those persons, of course, were couples of the starry-eyed variety––except for occasional solitary individuals who just wanted some exercise with the UW Women's Physical Education classes.
      That adds up to c. 150,000 canoes (using the same ones over and over again, of course) that Leis has launched. In the absence of any other claimants, he is, most indisputably, the world's champion canoe launcher!
      Out of that large number of rentals, only one canoe has been lost since he took over and that was stolen. This is quite a tribute to the sportsmanlike character and honesty of the average canoeist."
Above text by Bob J. Burandt for The Seattle Times, New Years Day 1950

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