George Tidball Jr. leads a riderless horse with the stirrups turned backwards, as part of a tribute to his grandfather George Tidball at Sunday's service of remembrance, held at Thunderbird Show Park.

Friends and family remember George Tidball

He was a well-known leader in the business and equestrian community, and a longtime Langley resident.

Friends from many walks of life joined with family members on Sunday at Thunderbird Show Park to remember George Tidball.

Mr. Tidball, founder of the Keg restaurant chain, original McDonald’s franchisee for Western Canada and builder and co-founder with his wife Dianne of the two Thunderbird facilities in Langley, died on June 3 at the age of 83.

The Tidball family are longtime Langley residents, having moved here in 1969.

Among those paying tribute to him on Sunday were Township Mayor Jack Froese, fellow restauranteurs Bus Fuller, Neil McLean and David Aisenstat and musicians Ian Tyson and Aaron Pritchett.

Also speaking were the Tidballs’ four children — Kathy Robbins, Stephen Tidball, Jane Tidball and Laura Balisky.

The memorial event had a distinctly western theme, with many of those attending attired in western garb. Grandson George Tidball Jr. led a riderless horse as a mounted cowboy entourage paid tribute to Mr. Tidball.

Mr. Tidball was born in Carstairs, Alberta and graduated from high school in  Penticton. He and Dianne were married in 1952. In 1956, he graduated as a chartered accountant and shortly afterwards, went to work for Alcan in Kitimat. He attended an IBM course in New york City that year and returned to create Alcan’s first computerized inventory program.

In 1958, he own the gold medal for having the highest score in Canada’s certified management accountant (CMA) program. In 1959, he impressed a visiting Harvard professor who offered him the opportunity to attend Harvard, where he attained an MBA in economics in 1961 and was at the top of his class.

He then attended the University of Chicago, beginning a PhD program under Milton Friedman. He left in 1962 to begin working with consulting firm McKinsey and Co.

While in Chicago, Dianne discovered McDonalds, which was popular with her young children. After the Tidballs returned to Vancouver in 1962, she prompted him to write to McDonalds and inquire about bringing the chain to Canada. He got the rights to the chain for Western Canada, with an option for the rest of the country. The first Canadian McDonalds opened in Richmond in 1967.

He opened 32 stores before selling the franchise back to head office.

When the Tidballs moved to Langley, they build an indoor riding arena, and the family rode Quarter horses.

Mr. Tidball opened the first Keg and Cleaver restaurant in 1971 in North Vancouver. In 1972, the Tidballs purchased land for the original Thunderbird Equestrian Centre at 88 Avenue and 200 Street, north of Highway 1. It was both a riding centre and contained the Keg in the Country restaurant, a very popular Langley dining spot.

The Tidballs were enthusiastic supporters of all types of riding, and Mr. Tidball accompanied his daughter Laura to the Summer Olympics in 1984 in Los Angeles, and 1988 in Seoul, where she competed in equestrian events.

In 1992, he and his son Stephen took part in team roping at the Cloverdale Rodeo and finished as top Canadian team ropers.

In 1998, the original Thunderbird centre was sold for redevelopment. It was combined with other property in the area to become the Colossus movie theatre and a shopping centre.

Thunderbird Show Park at 248 Street and 72 Avenue opened in 2000.

In 2005, Mr. Tidball was inducted into the B.C. Restaurant 0Hall of Fame in the pioneer category, and in 2009, he was inducted into the Jump Canada Hall of Fame, in the builder category.

He is survived by his wife Dianne, four children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, and his brother andy sister.

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