Thursday, 27 October 2016

A brief history of Heinz's paddling accomplishments

Credit River Race - clipboard in hand
Heinz competed in the Men’s K-1 for Canada on the first white water team that we sent to a World Championships in 1965 (Spittal, Austria), up to and including the Munich Olympics in 1972, when canoe slalom was included for the first time. He served for many years as National Slalom coach on many overseas trips as well as Ontario Provincial Coach. He served on the ICF Slalom Committee and was one of the people instrumental in bringing the Slalom and Downriver World Championships in Canada in 1979 (the first time they were held outside Continental Europe) and in establishing the Minden White Water Preserve on the Gull River (together with Roger Parsons). Heinz’s wife, Edith, was a qualified ICF judge. Together they were well known for their dedication to white water racing, and for mentoring many young people in their endeavours. Son Dieter place 7th in the 1979 World Championships (at that time, the highest placing by a Canadian K-1 paddler). In 2010 there was an “appreciation” gathering held at the Gull River site to honour Heinz. In attendance were many of the paddler’s he had influenced over the years. Following a slide show presentation and some 8mm movie footage of early races, everyone adjourned outside to re-tell stories of past adventures with Heinz. He was truly one of the Sport’s founders in North America and one it’s personalities. More recently he enjoyed a trip to watch the 2014 World Championships in Deep Creek, Maryland where he saw some of the sons, daughters, nieces and nephews of paddlers he had known compete. He was a special guest at the Pan-Am Games slalom on the Gull River last year. He was thrilled to watch such a high profile event happen on the course he helped create. 

He will be sadly missed by his family and fondly remembered by all who were lucky enough to know him. 


  1. I enjoyed sailing with Heinz and my dad one summer a few years ago, very lucky to have met him.

  2. Some great memories from the early 80's. We were 16 or 17, My cousin Dan Norman, Jim Coffey, Ian Edwards, and others, Heinz would be coaching at the side of the river at Slalom races and training camps. SVEEEEEP and DUUUUFFEK! he would boom at us BUUUTIFUL! Occasionally when, we still couldn't get what he was trying to get us to do he would (improbably) squeeze himself into one of our boats and show us! At a time when not many people knew how to paddle slalom, he did, and he was always willing eager and enthusiastic about sharing it with us. A big milestone for me was getting my first real slalom canoe paddle a Kober "Augsburg" fresh from Germany out of the big box in the back of his car. Impossible to find for us anywhere else, getting a paddle from Heinz was an act of faith on both our parts, an initiation into Slalom in Ontario for many of us. He will be missed.

    1. Sorry for appearing anonymous above I must not have signed in properly.
      Larry Norman

  3. My earliest memories of Heinz are from the 1970's when Heide and I were "runners" at kayak races, collecting scoring sheets from judges along the riverbanks. The Gull was always a highlight, scaling what we thought were mountainous cliffs. I always looked forward to seeing Heinz during those runs - just like the feeling I would get with my own parents, I had a feeling of being "home" when in his presence. I didn't realize then how our friendship would grow and develop throughout my adult life. For that I am truly thankful.

  4. Sad indeed. Heinz was a mentor in the early days of my life as a paddler - His friendly, inclusive and positive approach and willingness to share his time and expertise were a big influence on me. There were not many adults willing to help a stubborn group of teenagers progress from dangers to themselves and others on the river into paddlers who could get down a slalom course. Heinz was one of the few people who seemed to think me and the guys I was trying to learn to paddle with (Larry Norman, Jim Coffey, Ian Edward, et al) were not crazy or stupid or incompetent – and his faith in us kept us trying until we progressed. He was also the first person to ever take time to teach us anything technical. And always with a huge smile (and usually a hearty booming laugh too). Since I started paddling in 1981 or so, the whole legacy of racing and training that was “the Jonquiere” and the "1972 Olympic slalom" story was the stuff of legends for me – Heinz was the leader of that group of legends. AS a novice, I looked up to the hotshot young racers of the 1980s, but they all looked to Heinz and so we learned to as well. Its been years since I saw him last, but I will always think of him as a leader and a huge influence on me. My condolences to his family. It is a long way from Vancouver Island to Ontario, but I appreciate having this chance to remember Heinz.

  5. I was 12 years old in the spring of 1977, a nervous and very cold novice paddler at the downriver race at Elora Gorge. I had just met Heinz through my uncle (Harry Hewick) earlier that spring and was one of the many young paddlers that had benefitted from his bottomless pit of patience and dedication to the sport over the years. I had just crossed the finish line which was upstream of the low level concrete bridge. Exhausted and drifting with the current after the race, I caught a glimpse of Heinz walking across the bridge as I approached it. Unaware of the hazard, I got too close to the upstream side of the bridge with the river passing just under it. I immediately capsized upstream and was pulled out of my poorly fitting Mark V kayak and disappeared under the bridge. I was distinctly aware of a ceiling of concrete above me and a steady crushing pressure pushing me into some random debris downstream of me as I tried swimming upstream. I would have panicked had I known what a nasty predicament I was in. Pinned under water, in a strainer, under a concrete bridge is not place from which swimmers usually emerge. As my poor mother watched from the bank, I felt a sudden tug on my life jacket and arms still flailing, suddenly found myself in the air and plunked down on top of the bridge. Not realizing at first that the violent tug was actually Heinz reaching under the bridge and pulling me UPSTREAM to safety, I sputtered as he lectured me to stay away from that low bridge in the spring. During my first year of practicing and competing at the various Ontario races, there were several times when I was invited to sit soaking wet in Heinz's car or was given hot tea by his wife Edith between slalom runs or after one of my many swims.

    A few years later, I had made the Ontario junior slalom team along with several other teenagers from Barrie and Toronto areas. We would meet almost every weekend from April to September for training camps at the Gull R or a race somewhere, and at one point a two week training camp in Jonquiere, Quebec. Being teenagers who don't always shine in the organization and planning areas, there were several times where Heinz's offer of his car, extra camping equipment or even food would be gratefully accepted for survival. In one of these early spring training camps at the Gull, my uninspired grade 10 health assignment on exercise training ended up being a group project on kayak slalom science between Heinz, Gary Barton, Mark Heard and I. Who knew that this was an early seed planted for me to attend McMaster to major in exercise physiology and then another degree in physiotherapy?

    I last saw Heinz at the 1996 Nationals at MKC where I decided to train to make the team as a senior and enter the race after a very long absence. He was of course volunteering as a gate judge. "You're not bad for an old guy", he said with a grin as I passed his gate section on the path. "I had a good coach when I was young", was my obvious answer.

    So, one never knows when a gem of a guy like Heinz will pop into your life and enrich it in ways that you don't realize at the time. Wouldn't we all like to have that legacy?

    Thank you Heinz. You will surely be missed by many people in many ways.

  6. My thoughts go to the many hours spent with Heinz on river banks all over Canada. Not only did he teach me how to paddle a slalom course but he welcomed me into a group that taught me how to be dedicated, focused and work hard while having fun - all skills that have been so key to helping me enjoy a meaningful and rewarding life off of the river as well. It still amazes me the time and energy he devoted to all of us guys with little in return other than sharing the good times of the group. I'll always remember his good nature and almost permanent grin.

    I remember him often trying to get some technique across to Mike Elrick and I and not getting what it was he thought we should do when someone like Dieter would come through the same section of gates and Heinz would get very intense and excited and say "you see, you see, dis is what I mean". Sometimes it would take a few more examples before we got the point, but he was determined to make sure we got it right and sometimes we eventually did.

    As I'm out of the country for a few months, I will not be able to make the service, but my thoughts will turn to him many times over the few days as I remember the rich times spent with him and his selfless devotion to so many young paddlers across the province.

    Dave Riley

  7. Just last year at the Pan Am Games on the Gull, Heinz came by with Dieter - he had some advice on how to make an offset move that racers were having trouble with - he was glowing! Still our coach, and we his athletes. Kayaking was central in his life. I had the honour of interviewing Heinz (and Roger) about the Gull and the early days of Slalom (as Venue announcer). His mind was sharp as if it was yesterday. The passion so large there were tears in his eyes.
    With Heinz goes the beginning of paddling in Canada. A class act.

    Your grateful athlete,

  8. I have such fond memories of Hienz especially in the late 70's and 80s . His familliar waddle, his huge smile , his dog, his snorting and throat clearing these memories bring those great paddling days back to me. Bugs at The Gull in May, Dieter (built like a brick house) with his wry smile , guts Gary Barton the Richard fox of Canada, Mike good buddy Elrik at the campfire with his guitar, Dave Riley, Peter Burton , Mark and Grant , Claudia (fast and clean) . Hienz influenced all of us as paddlers and as people. He lead by example . It is with sadness that I hear of his passing .
    Mark (Syd) Heard

  9. My earliest memory of Heinz was seeing him wearing the old beaten leather helmet with ribs for protection. We were wearing CCM Hockey Helmets in those days and I couldn't wait until I could wear a "professional" helmet like Heinz. Little did I know that it likely offered no protection and would be outlawed today.
    Heinz lived in a different world than I in those days, he paddled K1, I paddled C2 and C1. Heinz operated in the OVKC and CWWA worlds, I was in the Scouting organization. Heinz paddled the latest model of Kayak and had European equipment. I paddled a C1 the size and shape of a bathtub and made my paddles with a fiberglass mold. But Heinz never once hesitated to stop by our young and raw group to offer a tip on how to complete a proper J stroke or hold the paddle properly. He was ready to offer advice to any of us young and raw rookies, only to help the paddling world grow with new talent. Heinz became a good friend and always greeted us with his infectious smile and presence. He never commanded, but always deserved respect and admiration by all. Our Mom and Dad loved sitting at his campfires at night or hang out near his camper van because he exuded cheerfulness and you could always expect a laugh. Heinz, your legacy will live on forever.

  10. I met Heinz early on in my paddling days when he was still a keen competitor wearing his trademark leather helmet. He loved to read comic books and it must have been the first Burleigh Falls race when he turned up with a kayak with comic book pages inlaid under the clear resin in front of the cockpit.
    I remember travelling with Heinz and Edith to a number of races. They always made everyone feel comfortable and always provided encouragement. Edith would share her home baked treats and Heinz looked any and all paddling needs.
    He was always ready to share his expertise. Over the years Heinz worked hard to expand his knowledge by working with other coaches and competitors. He was instrumental in raising the level of white water paddling from a few talented individuals to that of well trained competitors.
    It is only looking back over my white water paddling time I realize that it was such a privilege to have Heinz as an integral part of it.

  11. Dieter & Heidi and Poenn Family

    So many great memories your father helped to build for so many people in the paddling community. My only regret is that I did not reach out to see your father over the past few years to let him know how much I enjoyed my times with him.
    (I have thought of your father several times over the past few years) So now I will say to you what I wished I had done several years ago with Heinz:

    “ Heinz, Thank you for being such a wonderful coach and the endless support that you provided to the paddling community. Yet even more, for being a great man with that effortless smile that almost never left your face.”

    My condolences to you and your entire family. I trust that the wealth of memories you have will help you and your family through this

  12. Since receiving the sad news I have reflected a great deal about what a privilege it was to have been coached by such an inspirational man.

    I met him when I was 12 at the Gull River. He had a passion for paddling and he wanted to share it with everyone. It was the rarest of gifts he possessed. He could direct, guide and inspire. Heinz had an enormous capacity for caring for his athletes and he was compassionate.

    Thank you, Heinz, for being the wonderful person your were with your wonderful big smile. I haven't seen Heinz for years but I will always keep with me the wonderful memories of all the trips - Gull River, Heinz's trips to coach 4 of us in Barrie on a regular basis, winter weekly pool sessions, road trips in his van to compete at the West River, Jonquière and several trips to Canada's west coast. We covered a lot of ground and had some great cross country ski trips too.

    My first trip to the West River, Heinz drove to Barrie to collect 4 of us and on the way he took us to the coast of Main where we stopped overnight so we could all try surfing. We had a ball and decided that night to all sleep on the beach which Heinz suggested wasn't such a great idea because the bugs would be bad but allowed us to follow through with our plan. Heinz went off laughing. By 1 or 2am the no-see-'ems we're so terrible we all clambered back, badly bitten and piled into his van - Heinz only laughing!

    As the tapestry of our collective humanity is embroidered each day, I hope that the stitches made by Heinz Poenn – a caring, inspirational, smiling man - will serve as an inspiration for us all. I know that they do for me.
    Thank you, Heinz.
    Alison Drought Russell

  13. Lots of memories of Hienz so many rekindled by those above and at the service.
    I first met Heinz through the OVKC when we first started to paddle, always there to teach new paddlers proper technique.
    One of the big impressions made on me as a Junior was when I was paddling 16 mile the first time.
    There boats back then where large volume and could easily become stuck in the hydraulics one encounters on the river.
    In this instance a paddler got stuck in a good size "U" shaped hole and could not get out.
    Heinz immediately dropped into the hole and displaced the other paddler from the hole.
    It was a great lesson in river safety and unselfishness to the benefit of the group.

    You have also heard of the large number of rides he gave paddlers to get to events.
    I too was one of those people that received that kindness.
    But what many did not know is that in the mic 70's we lost our family home to the economic downturn at the time.
    But Heinz and Edith got me to races, and that gift has been passed on not only to paddlers I coached but to baseball and hockey "kids" I have been lucky enough to interact with, some in similar situations that I faced as a young person.
    And when they asked what they could do for me I just said
    "Someone did it for me, all I ask for is you play it forward to someone else when you get a chance"
    Thank you Heinz, your reach was far further than you could have imagined.