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Inspiring Canadians - In Sport and Life

Honoured Member

BRIG. GEN. DENIS WHITAKER

Inducted in 1990

Member Details

Date of Birth: February 27, 1915
Place of Birth: Calgary, Alberta
Date of Passing: May 30, 2001
Sport: Equestrian
Member Category: Builder

Career Highlights

1938

All-Eastern Quarterback

1958

Canadian Veterans Singles Squash Champion

1959 - 1960

Twice Canadian Water-Ski Champion

1960 - 1982

Chairman, Canadian Equestrian Team

1968

Canadian Equestrian Team wins first gold medal at Olympic Games

1990

Named to the Order of Canada 

Honoured Member BRIG. GEN. DENIS WHITAKER
Inspire

Story

Though he is perhaps best known for his heroic military service, Brigadier General Denis Whitaker also fought on the home front to create a champion Canadian equestrian team. Before taking to the show jumping course, however, Whitaker was a fearsome force on the gridiron of his Royal Military College football team. He was later a quarterback with the Hamilton Tigers until World War II. While overseas, he was a member of the Canadian football team that played in a number of matches against the American Army. After the tragic Dieppe raid of 1942, Whitaker, the captain of his squad, was awarded the DSO (Distinguished Service Order) for bravery. As a result, he assumed command of his Battalion, the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, in North-Western Europe. Here, his unit was engaged in some of the bloodiest and vicious fighting of the war with Whitaker, a commanding officer, leading by example. For his courage on the battlefield, he was awarded a Bar to his DSO. After the war, Whitaker turned his attention to horses and show jumping. He was founder of the Hamilton Hunt Club and twice named horseman of the year. When he assumed the position of chairman of the Canadian equestrian team in 1960, there was no formal structure to the organization and funds were procured on an ad hoc basis. Through intensive fundraising drives and personal solicitation, Whitaker was able to raise over $1 million dollars over the next 20 years. This allowed the Canadian equestrian team to compete internationally, but it was merely the first step in Whitaker's quest to generate a successful equestrian program in Canada. To ensure proper administration of the team, he organized the three show jumping disciplines under the direct management of a number of excellent chair people and enlisted a strong and active board of directors to oversee operations. To attract sponsors and fuel the long term growth of the sport, he helped to develop the first scholarship and clinic programs across Canada. To increase its popularity, he attracted the attention of the media and developed a rapport between the press and the Canadian teams. With Whitaker at the helm, the jumping, three-day event, and dressage teams achieved an impressive medal winning record, including one Olympic gold, one silver, two World Championship golds and one bronze, plus six Pan-American gold medals and five each in silver and bronze. A director of the Canadian Olympic Association during the 1970s, Whitaker was appointed the Chef de Mission for the Canadian team for the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games, as well as the boycotted Moscow Games of 1980. He was also governor of the Olympic Trust of Canada, as well as a member of the Royal Winter Fair executive committee. While working to develop equestrianism, Whitaker also remained active in a variety of different sports. He was the Canadian Veterans singles squash champion in 1958 and twice the Canadian water skiing champion, in 1959 and 1960. According to Olympic equestrian champion Jim Elder: "It was Whitaker who made show jumping believable and realistic when most people regarded it as strictly upper-crust social stuff." Whitaker's incredible foresight, unwavering dedication, and excellent leadership have fueled the growth of equestrian sports in Canada and helped the Canadian equestrian team reach the highest international ranks of the sport. For his military and athletic contributions, Whitaker named to the Order of Canada in 1990.


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