Show Park founders George and Dianne Tidball remembered

The Thunderbird Show Park continues on for the first summer without its founders and the driving forces behind its creation – Dianne and George Tidball.

The couple had adventurous forebearers and lives that took them all over the world before settling down in Langley.

Dianne was born in Shanghai in 1932, where her father John Braidwood was a Lever Brother’s Far East Division manager. Her mother Wenda was originally from Poland, and the pair were on a short leave there in 1939 when the family had to scramble to avoid the invading Germans.

They settled in Vancouver and later Naramata in the Interior, but Dianne’s father would late return to Shanghai, where he was captured by the Japanese during the Second World War and interned in a POW camp for several years. After more time in Shanghai, her father re-joined the family in Naramata.

Dianne would graduate from Penticton High in 1951, where she had already met George Tidball, originally from Carstairs, Alta.

George was a descendent of pioneers and war veterans hailing from the Canadian west.

A graduate of a one-room schoolhouse and then Pentiction High, George went on to study at the University of British Columbia.

He ran into academic problems a few times in his early life, but developed a pattern of bouncing back and studying harder.

He failed his first year at UBC, but then graduated at the top of his year as a chartered accountant.

George and Dianne were married in 1952, and George started working for Alcan.

With three young children in tow, the family headed off to the United States in 1959 when George got the opportunity to study first at Harvard, and then in Chicago.

“My experience at Harvard forced me to reconsider my perspective on everything,” George recalled years later. “When I failed the very first exam, I came home and said, ‘Dianne, I think we made a mistake, I can’t keep up with these guys’. But later I found out that the professor failed me because he thought I was too arrogant. That changed my attitude towards school – I decided to study more seriously.”

Dianne supported the family, as while George had a scholarship, it covered only books and tuition.

She took up typing envelopes at home while caring for their children.

It was also Dianne who spurred the family’s move into the restaurant industry. After leaving Chicago, she missed the simple fast food place that their kids had loved. It was a new chain called McDonald’s.

With the family back in Vancouver, George approached McDonald’s, looking for the chance to open a single franchise. He came back with the rights for all of western Canada.

They opened their first franchise in Richmond in 1967, and would eventually open 32 stores over the next four years.

It was also in the late 1960s that the couple and their now-four children would come to Langley, all because oldest daughter Kathy wanted a horse.

By 1969 the family had an acreage near Fort Langley, and space enough for their children to ride.

George, having sold his McDonald’s franchises, was busy creating The Keg Steakhouse chain, while at the same time the family oversaw the creation of the Thunderbird Equestrian Centre near 200th Street and 88th Avenue.

The original Thunderbird park was closed in the late 1990s, and the area redeveloped into commercial and residential units.

Soon the family began plans for a new Thunderbird, at 72nd Avenue and 248th Street – now one of North America’s premiere show jumping locations.

George passed away in June, and Dianne followed him just a few weeks later. They are survived by four children and numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.

A celebration of life for Dianne will be held Friday, Aug. 22 from 5-7 p.m. during the Dianne Tidball Legacy Grand Prix, presented by the Tidball family.

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