Hannah Denison. Not a name you would know in the world of show jumping but she has a hand in it. On this Women’s History Month, we felt it fitting to share the incredible life and person that she is as the ninety-seven-year-old devoted grandmother to nine grandchildren (and 15 great grandchildren!) including Canada’s top ranked show jumper in the world – Tiffany Foster.

Immigrating from Ukraine (then Poland) as a child in 1929 on a steamship across the Atlantic, she was a curious and adventurous four-year-old. One of the few ship’s passengers who didn’t get seasick during the crossing, she remembers that trip even today. “I was on my own for a while one evening because my parents and older brother were all seasick,” she recounted. “I happened upon a birthday party, but they didn’t let me stay because they were playing cards and smoking. I went down into the boiler room where it was really wet and it was rough, so I tripped and hit my head and I got knocked out. So really, I guess I was resilient from the beginning. No one would stop me!”

I am EC: A grandmother’s strength and resilience paves the way

Sitting at Thunderbird Show Park earlier this year, the 97-year-old Denison was pleased to be in attendance to watch Foster compete in the Longines Nations’ Cup in Langley, BC.

Her family landed and chose to live first in Peace River, Alberta. “My parents had the choice to go to Argentina or Canada, and my mom picked Canada,” she said. “I’m so glad she chose Canada!”

The adventurous spirit that she was and even more so for a woman in 1945, at age 21 she ventured North with her best friend to waitress in a cafe in the booming gold-mining town of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. 

I am EC: A grandmother’s strength and resilience paves the way

Hannah Denison adventured to the city of Yellowknife at the age of 21.

“I remember that we had to land on the lake because there was no airport,” she recounted. “There was three feet of snow and we landed in the snowbank!” She was fearful going into the experience but through bravery, hard-work, and laughter it was a success. “I always found a way to have a good time,” she jested. 

I am EC: A grandmother’s strength and resilience paves the way

Hannah Denison with handsome RCMP officer and soon to be husband in the Northwest Territories. 

Another positive outcome of her adventure north, was meeting her future husband. In 1946, again on a bold outing with her friend, they went out on a canoe on the lake at sunset and the weather turned on them. “It got really windy, and we had to dock on the RCMP barge,” Denison remembered. “We were windblown and soaking wet. And there he was.” A tall, handsome RCMP constable who later received the Order of Canada for being Canada’s first Ice Road trucker.

The couple dated, then in 1947, he wanted to share his life with this loyal, loving, and strong woman. “He bought his discharge papers so we could get married,” Denison said. “Mounties were not allowed to marry at the time. We flew to Edmonton to get married. He was from Vernon originally, so after that we decided to move back to BC.”

Over the next number of years, living in Dawson Creek her family grew with four children and added a fifth – adopting her two-month-old niece when she needed a home. Her husband drove on the Ice Road and was away much of the time. She managed well independently with no phone or car. 

I am EC: A grandmother’s strength and resilience paves the way

Tiffany Foster, sister Rebecca Foster, mother Lynn Foster and Grandmother Hannah Denison pose together outside the Bale & Bucket, the onsite restaurant that Rebecca owns and operates on the Thunderbird showgrounds.

Throughout the years, she cared for her family, relatives, and friends. She cooked, sewed, and baked. Her home was always open for anyone who needed a place to stay. Many have fond memories of her homemade bread and cinnamon buns. Nobody left her house hungry.

“Oh yes, I’m always asked to bring my cinnamon buns!” Denison mused about her famous baking. “I made some just a few weeks back in fact.” But baking wasn’t the only thing she was generous with. In 1981 they moved to their Little Creek property on Lake Okanagan, close to where her husband was born and later subdivided the land for each of their four children. This beautiful 28-acre property was the site of many gatherings of family and friends over the years.

Even with close to a century of memories, her thoughts remain on gratitude. “I’m really lucky to be living in Canada versus Poland or the Ukraine,” the still spunky Denison reflected. “It’s been a long journey, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’ve been pretty lucky.”

When asked about her life now, she casually talked about where she is. “I live in Kelowna now in my condo,” she said. “At ninety-six I decided on my own to quit driving – with a clean driving record!” She mentioned the big party she had on her ninetieth birthday, which is almost eight years ago now. And with no prompting at all, she shared some profound advice. “There is always going to be a better day, you know. My big advice is that tomorrow is going to be a better day. Don’t look back – it’s all history.”

She is an extremely proud grandmother to nine individuals who have all found successes in their chosen paths. In addition to Foster, a two-time Olympian and world leading show jumper, the group includes a professional basketball player, an opera singer, a web designer, a flight attendant, a chef and restaurant owner, an artist and singer, a social media marketer, and an entrepreneur.

“I tried my best to help them anyway I could. I looked after all of my grandchildren. I was there when they needed me,” she said. “They turned out perfect as far as I’m concerned – and kept me broke too!” Denison laughed.

I am EC: A grandmother’s strength and resilience paves the way

Foster and her grandmother share a cuddle at Thunderbird Show Park.

She further talked about the one she had come to see at the event at Thunderbird Show Park in Langley, BC. “When I think about Tiffany…really, she’s the best! She’s been interested in horses since she was little, and she’s been doing really well for herself.”

Even into her eighties and nineties she hasn’t missed much of Foster’s rise in the world of show jumping. “My favourite memories are at Spruce Meadows,” she shared. “I have three pictures with Tiffany and her horses at home – my favourites of hers are Brighton and Victor. I know she has some newer horses now, but I don’t know them as well.”

The memories kept coming and she was reminded how it all started with Foster. “She got a rocking horse when she was two years old and I used to babysit her and she just loved that rocking horse,” she recalled.

With just a glimpse of her life story, Denison is an example of how a strong, determined, and capable woman can pave the way for future generations. “I always told Tiffany,” she said, “life is what you make it.”

And make it she has.

Foster hasn’t forgotten the incredible female roots that she comes from. She has been a testament to the Denison family motto of ‘Perseverendo’ throughout her career, the Latin word meaning to persevere.

Her grandmother’s advice has also guided Foster a lot through her career. Foster recalls one such bit of wisdom she shared once when they were driving together, and Foster was behind the wheel. “She told me to always look up the road ahead instead of directly in front of me,” the show jumper recalled. “It really stuck with me, and I have applied it to all aspects of my life.

Her training business and growing facility in Langley, BC is also aptly named Little Creek Equestrian, a nod to the family property where so many memories were made owing much to her mother’s mother, Hannah Denison. 

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