Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens

Archaeology of Death: Terry Fox Memorial, St. John’s

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This blog post was written by Calum Brydon, for the Archaeology of Death undergraduate course in Fall 2020 at Memorial University of Newfoundland, taught by Dr. Meghan Burchell. They graciously allowed it to be posted on Spade & the Grave, thanks Calum!

In a small park behind the Port Authority Building in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, stands a bronze statue of a man dipping a prosthetic foot into the Atlantic Ocean. Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope not far from that location on April 12, 1980 (“Terry Fox Commemorated,” 2012). He set out to run across Canada, on one leg, asking for each Canadian to donate one dollar to cancer research, so that he could raise 24 million dollars for people who had been put in similar situations as he had been three years earlier. As most know, Fox’s marathon ended on September 1, 1980, outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario, after his cancer had spread to his lungs. He had already traversed parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario, running an average of 42 kilometres a day and having already raised millions of dollars. Fox surpassed his fundraising goal of 24 million dollars on February 1, 1981, but he died several months later, in June 1981 (“Terry Fox,” 2020). Over the next 40 years since the Marathon of Hope began, over 800 million dollars have been raised for cancer research in Terry Fox’s name (“Facts about Terry,” 2020).

Fox is commemorated worldwide through annual Terry Fox runs, and several schools, roads, and parks bear his name across Canada (“Honours,” 2020). Several statues of Fox can also be found across the country. One of these statues is in Thunder Bay, where Fox’s run came to its unexpected end, while sister statues in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador and Victoria, British Columbia, mark the start and planned end points of the Marathon of Hope (“List of Monuments,” 2020).

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1958, Terry Fox was a dedicated young man who was involved in various athletic activities (“The Early Years,” 2017). His initial cancer diagnosis came in 1977, as he went to the hospital due to pain that he attributed to a car crash several months earlier. During his treatments, he was inspired by the first amputee to complete the New York Marathon, Dick Traum, to begin to run to raise money. After months of training, Fox’s first documented road race after his amputation was in Prince George, British Columbia, a 27 kilometre race in which he placed last (“Terry Fox,” 2020). Several months later, after receiving an endorsement from the Canadian Cancer Society and a go-ahead from his doctors, Fox dipped his prosthetic leg in the Atlantic Ocean and set out on the Marathon of Hope (“Facts about Terry,” 2020). He was still relatively unknown as he traversed Newfoundland, but received a major boost to his fundraising efforts when he arrived in Port aux Basques. After making the trek from St. John’s, Fox was presented with over 10,000 dollars, approximately 1 dollar per resident of the ferry town. The rest of his journey was not without setbacks; he was having a significant conflict with his driver through the Maritimes, and had trouble communicating in rural Quebec, as he did not speak French. By the time he arrived in Ontario, however, he was being lauded as a hero by the vast majority of the country, being met with cheers and donations as he crossed the province. His endeavour would, of course, be cut short shortly before he arrived in Thunder Bay, but to run 42 kilometres a day for upwards of 3 months (on one leg) was nothing short of incredible (“Terry Fox,” 2020).

The Terry Fox Monument in St. John’s stands in front of the icebreaker CCGS Terry Fox (image from terryfox.org).

Within days of Fox’s death in 1981, memorials started to pop up (“Honours,” 2020). The most notable is the annual Terry Fox Run, which still raises millions of dollars a year for cancer research, but as time passed, more and more streets, schools, parks, and even boats were dedicated to Fox (“List of Monuments,” 2020). The original Terry Fox Memorial in St. John’s was a small plaque in a little park, noting “Mile 0” of the Marathon of Hope. Some visitors had trouble finding the park, tucked away behind the Port Authority building, and the plaque along with it. In response, the City of St. Johns, with federal funding, commissioned the statue of Fox, as well as some small changes to the memorial park, for over 400,000 dollars. (“New Terry Fox Monument,” 2012). It was dedicated on April 12, 2012, on the 32nd anniversary of the beginning of the Marathon of Hope, with several of Fox’s immediate family members in attendance, who remarked on how well sculptor Luben Boykov had captured Fox’s determination (“Terry Fox Commemorated,” 2012). Behind the statue, a quote from Fox is written on a short wall. It reads: “I just wish people would realize that anything’s possible if you try; dreams are made if people try” (“New Terry Fox Monument,” 2012) The monument serves to inspire future generations to follow Fox to perform good deeds, and to try to make the world a better place.

The statue does, however, raise some concerns. While nearly all Canadians agree that Terry Fox was a hero, and was a large proponent for funding cancer research, building statues of him often seems counterintuitive. During the Marathon of Hope, Fox reiterated multiple times that he was not seeking personal fame, recognition, or endorsements (“Terry Fox,” 2020). He was just trying to raise money to help people in need. Because he expressed these opinions, it seems unlikely that he would be on board with a 450,000 dollar statue of himself. While it is important not to detract from the art or the cultural significance that statues bring, especially statues of well regarded individuals such as Terry Fox, would a 450,000 dollar donation to cancer research not have been more appropriate in this situation? The “Mile 0” site already existed, with its small park and plaque noting that the Marathon of Hope had begun nearby.

Would Terry Fox, in his constant rebuke of fame during his lifetime, be in favour of this statue, knowing that the money used to build it could be better utilized to fund cancer research? While it is an important part of our material culture to want to physically memorialize those who have accomplished as much as Terry Fox did, it is also important to demonstrate respect for the values that they have shown in their lives. While Fox may be “deserving” of a statue, cancer research is more “deserving” of the funding the statue received than the statue is itself. Of course, this is not to detract from other ways of memorializing Fox – there is no harm in naming a school or a road after him, but the feelings he expressed regarding the recognition he received during his lifetime would seem to indicate that he would see more value in something other than a statue. This is not to say that the statue should be removed or altered in any capacity – simply to say that it should not have been built in the first place.

Overall, the Terry Fox Memorial in St. John’s is a good way to memorialize an incredibly important person in Canadian history. Terry Fox helped countless people through his dedication and generosity, and this memorial is a testament to that. While it can be argued that the plaque that had stood for years, along with the green space, was sufficient in itself to memorialize Fox, the presence of his likeness in no way detracts from the site. While some may feel that there are better ways to commemorate the life of a figure like Fox, this memorial provides for a material connection to be made with one of Canada’s greatest figures. Much of the western world craves these material connections, and the ability to be able to see what Terry Fox looked like, or to feel as though they are there with him, supporting him on his run and with his cause. Hopefully, the statue can serve as an inspiration to anyone who sees it, and helps people to accomplish the goals that they have set out on, regardless of how daunting those goals might be. If it is unable to inspire people to follow the example that Terry Fox created, hopefully it convinces the next city planning to build a statue to donate 450,000 dollars to cancer research instead.

References

Attractions | City of St. John’s. (2020). Retrieved October 15, 2020, from: http://stjohns.ca/visiting/things-do/attractions/6404

Facts About Terry. (2020). Retrieved October 15, 2020, from https://terryfox.org/terrys-story/facts/

Honours – Terry Fox. (2020, September 22). Retrieved October 15, 2020, from https://terryfox.org/terrys-story/honours/

List of monuments and memorials to Terry Fox. (2020, October 08). Retrieved October 15, 2020, from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_monuments_and_memorials_to_Terry_Fox

New Terry Fox monument in St. John’s marks Mile Zero of the Marathon of Hope. (2012, April 13). Retrieved October 15, 2020, from https://www.thespec.com/news/canada/2012/04/13/new-terry-fox-monument-in-st-john-s-marks-mile-zero-of-the-marathon-of-hope.html

Terry Fox. (2020, September 28). Retrieved October 15, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terry_Fox

Terry Fox commemorated in new St. John’s statue. (2012, April 13). Retrieved October 15, 2020, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/terry-fox-commemorated-in-new-st-john-s-statue-1.1135562

The Early Years – Terry Fox. (2017, January 28). Retrieved October 15, 2020, from https://terryfox.org/terrys-story/early-years/

Author: Robyn Lacy

Archaeologist / Cultural Heritage / Burial Ground Restoration

One thought on “Archaeology of Death: Terry Fox Memorial, St. John’s

  1. Pingback: Archaeology of Death: Student Blog Post Mini-Series | Spade & the Grave

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