Find of the Month

November 2018 - The "canoe-menace"


In 1935, Kenneth Gilbert wrote to City Councilmember Austin Griffiths about his concerns relating to small pleasure craft in the city's lakes and harbor:

Newspaper accounts of the near-drowning of three boys clinging to an overturned canoe off Mercer Island are a forceful reminder of a matter which, apparently, has long been accepted as being inevitable as death and taxes - the canoe-menace...

Canoeing is an art more difficult to master than driving an automobile. I know whereof I speak because I was literally "brought up" in a canoe, and taught proper handling of it by expert "whitewater men" of Northern Wisconsin. Hence the sight now of one of these frail, tricky craft being handled by an inexperienced dub gives me the same feeling of horror as would the sight of a maniac armed with a gun. We license car-drivers and aviators, yet permit any blundering fool to take trusting companions out in a dangerous canoe, and drown them.

Gilbert suggested that all boat-renting establishments be required to have patrons sign a form highlighting the dangers of canoes and providing boating safety tips. He suggested that the form be signed in duplicate, so that the boathouse proprietor could keep one on file and the patron could take one with him or her on the boat "for further perusal."

Councilmember Griffiths wrote back to Gilbert to let him know that the City Council had appointed a special committee to study potential regulations. Gilbert replied that he was gratified that they recognized the problem, and continued, "It is my opinion that if it were not for the fools and criminals in this world, we could scrap 99% of our laws. Apparently, however, we MUST have measures to protect the innocent from the foolhardy and the thoughtless just as much as we must protect law-abiding citizens from criminals."