Categories: Arts & Culture

Terry Fox: up close and personal

Terry Fox's brother, Darrell Fox, in front of the Marathon of Hope van on display in the Terry Fox exhibit at the Telus World of Science in Edmonton. 'Terry Fox – Running to the Heart of Canada' is an in-depth look at Terry’s epic 143 day journey, across 5,373 kilometres, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Thunder Bay, Ontario. It explores the deep and abiding affection Canadians have for Terry Fox and examines his unique place in our collective memory.

It still chokes me up every single time I think about it. The thought of a young Terry Fox, then only 21 but an amputee with a prosthetic lower right leg for two years. He dips his foot into the Atlantic Ocean near St. John’s and then starts running across Canada back to his home in British Columbia, a distance of nearly 5,400 km. He called it the Marathon of Hope.

His distinctive gait with its step-push-skip-step rhythm made him look tougher than Rocky even though he was as lean as a Lodgepole Pine. He looked like a soldier with an invisible weight on one shoulder struggling to get across a battlefield. That was an appropriate image since he was fighting against an insurmountable foe and for a noble cause.

Sadly, the cancer that took his leg eventually took his life and he never reached his destination. Incredibly, he still beat his goal of raising $1 for every one of the country’s then 24 million citizens. The event he inspired, the Terry Fox Run, has brought in more than $700 million for cancer research. The people he inspired can now take a closer look at the man than they’ve ever had a chance to before.

The Telus World of Science recently opened a new exhibit called Terry Fox – Running to the Heart of Canada. It’s called the most comprehensive exhibition ever organized about Fox and his famous run. There has never been anything like it.

“During the Marathon of Hope and the months that followed, Canadians filled our home in Port Coquitlam, B.C., with scrapbooks, written tributes and gifts reflecting a collective compassion and admiration for Terry’s unselfish act,” said Darrell Fox, Terry’s brother. “More than 35 years later, it was time to share the Terry Fox collection and the compelling story that the memorabilia evoke with the world.”

An exhibit with legs

As familiar as we all are with Terry’s artificial leg, few of us have ever seen it in person. That prosthesis – still with Terry’s shoe on it – is just one of the many amazing highlights of the exhibit, which was co-produced by the Canadian Museum of History along with the Terry Fox Centre, which is responsible for the collection.

Darrell Fox explained that the centre is the third identity of the Terry Fox organization, along with the Terry Fox Research Institute that receives funding from the Terry Fox Foundation, organizer of the annual Terry Fox Run. The centre is working toward its own museum but for now these pieces will travel the country so that as many people can see them and revisit the story of one of Canada’s greatest heroes.

“The idea is to have opportunities like this to share it with Canadians rather than have it sit in storage, which it has for almost three decades,” he said. “There are pieces that have been scattered at a couple of locations in B.C. but they’re not prominent. This offers people the opportunity to really see it. That’s quite exciting.”

The leg and the other display that featured his sock left me awestruck. To be brutally honest, it wasn’t as much of a sock as a series of threads and some gaping holes. That just goes to prove what running nearly 40 km a day for more than four months straight will do to your footwear.

There are other objects that you might never have even thought of either, such as the jug of water that Terry collected some of the Atlantic in or the iconic van that his friend Doug Alward drove. There are video and audio displays that offer some of the news accounts. I’ve probably never even heard his voice until this.

Terry’s journal is also there and if you look into it, you’ll get a sense of his own hope for trying to make a colossal boost for cancer research then and for the future.

The rest of the exhibit is like a time trip going back 38 years. There are mementos like a collection of Marathon of Hope T-shirts and some gifts and letters of encouragement that he received from those he touched. In some way, this ‘memory lane’ works to bring me back to the basics of what he was trying to do. Darrell Fox agreed.

“I feel the same way. I never get tired of being back in 1980. I always say that I don’t live in the past but I go back there every day of my life. I like being there. I learn from that story,” he continued.

“To be close to these objects, it rekindles those memories and I think that it helps share the story. There’s going to be a time in the not too distant future when those of us that witnessed the Marathon of Hope … we’re not going to be here. So how is that story going to be shared? This is how: through the artifacts speaking and sharing the story. This is incredible, this exhibit. I think it could be so much more in terms of interactive displays. That’s our goal and our hope for the future.”

It’s an impressive collection, said Alan Nursall, the president and CEO of the facility.

“It’s special because it works on a couple of levels. First of all, the story of the run is extraordinarily moving and profoundly important to this country just to see what one person can do against tremendous odds,” he said, adding that it allows the science centre to connect with the medical community to show how the research funded by all of those Terry Fox Run donations has made vast strides over the years.

“We’ll be working with the local health community over the run of this exhibition to make sure that there’s opportunities for Edmontonians to learn about how that money is spent and how it goes to finding cures for cancer. The progression in health science over the last 40 years has been enormous but we still have a long way to go.”

Darrell Fox sees this exhibit as offering new inspiration to the children who weren’t even alive when his brother took his cancer fight to the streets.

“It’s the next generation. It’s the students that are coming to take this all in. They’ll be able to carry the baton going forward. That’s what Terry wanted in 1980. He did not like the fact that he was getting all the attention. He thought we were all members of the Marathon of Hope. He said very clearly, ‘the Marathon of Hope better continue on without me.’ And it has, because it’s been passed on to the next generation.”

Scott Hayes: Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.