1915 - 2001
William Denis Whitaker was born in February 1915 in Calgary, attended Brown and University of Toronto schools in Ontario, and entered RMC in 1933. He began his lifelong passion for sports by joining the RMC football team, of which he was captain in 1936-37. He was also captain of the hockey team in 1937, and was awarded the Prince of Wales Cup for best all-round athlete on graduation. He then played with the Hamilton Tigers, later the Tigercats, and in 1938, was nominated the All-Eastern Quarterback. While overseas, he was a member of the Canadian football team that played against the American team in the Coffee Bowl and the Tea Bowl.
He joined the Canadian Army at the outbreak of World War II and went overseas with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry. His cool, tenacious leadership under heavy fire was an inspiration to his troops and for which he was awarded two Distinguished Service Orders - first as a Captain during the Dieppe Raid in August, 1942, and second as a Lieutenant-Colonel after the Normandy landings, where he led his regiment during the Battle of the Scheldt Estuary and in the Rhineland. He was wounded twice during the war and rose to be Canada's then youngest Brigadier-General. He is an Officer of the Legion of Honour (France), and a Commander, Order of the Crown (Belgium).
Denis left the Army in 1951. In business life, he was President of O'Keefe Brewing Company, and for many years he was a stockbroker. During his business career, he continued to pursue his strong interest in sports. In 1958, he won the Canadian Veterans Singles Squash Championship, and in 1959 and 1960 he was the Canadian Water Ski Champion. He then brought his leadership skill to sports organizations. From 1960 to 1982, he was chairman of the Canadian Equestrian Team. He founded the Hamilton Hunt Club, and was twice named Horseman of the Year. Under his chairmanship, the Canadian Equestrian Team won Gold at the Olympics, twice at the Worlds, and six times at the Pan-Americas, along with silver and bronze medals.
Denis Whitaker was a Director of the Canadian Olympic Association in the 1970s, and was appointed Chef de Mission for the Canadian team in the '72 and '76 Olympic Games. He led Canada's boycott against the Moscow Games in 1980, and was Governor of the Olympic Trust of Canada, as well as a member of the Royal Winter Fair executive. Whitaker is credited with making show jumping an Olympic equestrian sport, and Canada's team one of the best at the international level. He is a member of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. At RMC, the Whitaker Cup is awarded each year to the top Team Captain of a RMC varsity team. For his contributions to Canada in both sport and military endeavours, he was named to the Order of Canada in 1990.
In later years, he became an author, writing histories of World War II. His first book, Tug of War, subtitled 'The Canadian Victory That Opened Antwerp', was written with his wife, Shelagh. The book told the story of the Battle of the Scheldt Estuary, and won the J.W. Dafoe book prize in 1984. It was published in several countries and was translated into Flemish. Denis and Shelagh wrote three other books: Rhineland: The Battle to End the War (1989); Dieppe: Tragedy to Triumph (1992) and Victory at Falaise: The Soldiers' Story (2000).
BGen Whitaker was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from RMC in 1994. He was married first to Juanita Bergy. They had three children. He later married Shelagh Dunwoody. Denis died on May 30, 2001.
Soldier, Athlete extraordinaire, Businessman, Sports Leader, Author