Terry Fox and the Marathon of Hope

Terry Fox, Marathon of Hope stamp. In honour of his accomplishments regarding cancer research. © Canada Post, 1982. Reproduced with permission.

For the week of Monday, April 6, 2020.

On April 12, 1980, Terry Fox dipped his right leg in the Atlantic Ocean at St. John’s, Newfoundland, to mark the start of his epic run across Canada. Although he never reached his destination of Victoria, British Columbia, his Marathon of Hope raised millions of dollars and increased public awareness of the urgent need for innovative cancer research.

Terry Fox was born in 1958 to Rolland and Betty Fox, and raised in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, one of four athletic siblings. While a student at Simon Fraser University, he started experiencing chronic pain and, in March 1977, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. In an effort to prevent the cancer from spreading, doctors amputated his right leg above the knee and began chemotherapy. The treatment was successful and Fox started walking with a prosthetic leg a month after surgery.

Fox returned to his athletic lifestyle, competing in three national wheelchair basketball championships and started running. He initially told his family he was training for the Vancouver Marathon, but after completing roughly 4,800 kilometres in a little more than a year, he revealed his plans to raise funds and awareness for cancer research by running across the country. After securing corporate sponsorships and the support of the Canadian Cancer Society, he travelled to Newfoundland to begin his journey. Over the next four months, he persevered through snow, rain, and wind, running at a pace of about 40 kilometres a day. By August, he had travelled 5,373 kilometres across six provinces. 

As he reached Ontario, his visits to major cities were drawing huge crowds, and millions of supporters across Canada and around the world were tracking his progress in the news. That public interest helped generate $1.75 million in donations for cancer research by the time the Marathon of Hope came to an abrupt end in September. 

As he neared Thunder Bay, Ontario, Fox experienced chest pains and asked his best friend Doug Alward, who was providing support along the route, to take him to the hospital. The next day, September 2, 1980, Fox announced that the cancer had metastasized to his lungs. He returned home to undergo treatment, vowing that “if there is any way I can get out there and finish, I will.” Despite chemotherapy and interferon treatment, he never returned to Thunder Bay to complete his cross-country run. Fox died, surrounded by his family, of June 28, 1981. 

The legacy of Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope live on, as communities across Canada continue to participate in the annual Terry Fox Run every September, an event that has raised more than $750 million for cancer research since 1981. 

Terry Fox is a designated national historic person.

May is Asian Heritage Month. Learn more about Asian Canadian histories by exploring articles in our online archives about the Early Chinese Cemeteries in Victoria, British Columbia, Vietnamese immigration to Canada after 1978, and The Abbotsford Gur Sikh Temple.