It is with sadness, mixed with admiration for a long paddling life well lived, that Canoe Kayak Canada recognizes the passing of Alan McCleery.
Alan’s paddling journey began in Montreal in the 1940’s, paddling at the famed Grand Truck Paddling club on the St. Lawrence River. Here, he first experienced National level success winning his first CCA Championships in Junior Men’s C-4 in 1949, lifting the John W. Black Trophy as a twenty year old.
A dynamic partnership for Al began when he partnered with Loui Lukanovich, then a member of the Sudbury Canoe Club, for the 1956 trials at Rideau. They won the 10,000m race by a half a mile, and seemed set for an Olympic nomination however, that same evening, Alan was advised Lou was not eligible to compete for Canada. He was 10 days away from the 5 year residency requirement.
In 1957, Lou and Al reunited in Montreal with their sights set on the 1960 Olympics, and both joined Cartierville Boating Club, as Grand Trunk was greatly impacted by the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and was closing down.
With both Al and Lou moving to Cartierville, the balance of power in Montreal area clubs moved with them, with an outstanding group of paddlers developing together through the 1950s on the Rivière des Prairies (Back River) in Montreal.
McCleery reached international success as part of the 1960 Olympic Team, putting to rest the disappointment of 1956 when they competed in Rome at Lago Albano with Lukanovich in the K2 1000m.
The partnership of McCleery & Lukanovich transitioned to an incredible coach and paddler duo at Cartierville where they were key pieces of the unprecedented, and still unmatched, dynasty of the Carterville Boating Club winning 8 consecutive National Championships Overall Burgees between 1958 and 1965.
Later, Al moved with his family to Ottawa, where he became a fixture at the Rideau Canoe Club training every morning in his classic green K1. Al continued to race masters through the 1980s and 1990s. Al and his wife Joan, would also make regular trips to Indian Harbour Beach Florida, where he would join the throngs of paddlers training on the Banana River, earning an international reputation for his endurance and commitment to a daily paddle through his stay at “training camp”.
Al had many incredible stories from his long career of paddling and was quick to share these with anyone who picked up a conversation with him. These stories included a remarkable first-hand account of a piece of canoe racing history. Through the early decades of the 20th century, Double Bladed Fours were raced in a boat very similar to a Canadian C-4 we would know today in a high kneel position, with a long paddle used to take strokes on both sides. As a young paddler, Al was competing at an American Canoe Association Regatta in the Double Bladed Fours Crew at Sugar Island in the 1000 Islands on the St Lawrence River when an American crew paddled up to the start sitting in line in the middle of the boat. The crew took off on everyone in this new configuration, and a piece of North American paddling history was made.
He also was happy to share the story of him paddling along the shore in training for the Olympic Games in 1960 and looking up to see a figure all in white looking down at them along the shores of Lago Albano, and him realizing it was the Pope, whose country residence Castel Gandolfo was located directly on the lake.
Al was an incredible figure in our sport who inspired countless other paddlers as a coach, teammate, mentor or simply as the friendly kayaker who said good morning as he paddled by in his K1.
CKC wishes to offer our condolences to Alan’s family, his dear friend and K2 partner Lou Lukanovich, and all those who were friends of Al across the paddling community.
Al will continue to inspire many for years to come.
Read Alan McCleery’s Obituary with Funeral Details here.