A “Unifying Influence on Our Nation”: Making and Remaking the Meaning of Terry Fox

Just months before his death in June 1981, Fitness and Amateur Sport Canada (FAS) announced the first annual Terry Fox Marathon of Hope Day. This announcement built on widespread interest in commemorating Terry Fox. During and after his run, English Canadians wrote letters to politicians and newspapers suggesting that celebrating Terry Fox could be a way to bring the nation together and to recognize a person emblematic of values deemed Canadian: toughness, masculinity, courage, and ability. This essay examines the claim that Terry Fox united Canada in 1980-81 and argues that Fox was not the unifying figure that many made him out to be. Instead, he was a more complicated and contradictory icon than such narratives imply. Considering Terry Fox in the context of national unity, ability/disability, masculinity, and character reveals that there was no singular way of understanding the runner or the Marathon of Hope when he was still alive. Over time, different meanings have been attached to Terry Fox. Fox’s story has been made and remade. It speaks to patterns of historical memory, and regional and linguistic differences that are a part of the Canadian story.