Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This should be Steve Fonyo

A few weeks ago I was walking along the waterfront and suddenly became aware of something that I had missed on many prior occasions. This statue:

I had seen the statue many times before but always from behind. I had always assumed that it was Steve Fonyo but it's not. It's Terry Fox. People may know of Terry Fox. If not, this is about him (have a tissue ready):

Terry Fox was a top notch human being. I remember being very affected by him and, as a 12 year old kid, donating all my paper route money to his 'Marathon of Hope.' I remember when he had to stop running across Canada and his subsequent death the next summer; my JFK moment.

Years later Steve Fonyo, another man affected by cancer like Terry, decided to do a similar run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. He completed the run in May of 1985 right near where the above statue is. This area is called 'Mile 0' and is the western most point of the 'Trans Canada Highway'. It's a popular start/end place for cross-Canada trips.

I skipped out of school to witness the event. Thinking back, if it had been Terry Fox I suspect schools would have been closed so that everyone could go and see Terry.

But poor Steve, he got flack left, right and centre for the whole duration of his run. He was deemed a copycat and that he was only doing this for his own personal gain, that he was riding on Terry Fox's coat-tails, that this was just a publicity stunt and various other playground taunts.

I remember standing there, in the drizzling May rain and feeling completely saddened by the lack of people out to cheer Steve Fonyo on his finishing his run and the lack of recognition and celebration of his achievement. I felt disgusted by my fellow citizens. I can only imagine how Steve must have felt.

Years later, I read that he had gotten into a lot of trouble with alcohol and drugs and had been arrested for drunk driving and assault and had various other problems. It didn't really surprise me. Here's someone who tried to make a positive impact on society, and received a smack in the face for his troubles.

To me the above statue is another example of that. I admire Terry Fox immensely but his likeness should not be at Mile 0, Steve Fonyo's should be. But then, this is a city built on milking tourists of the money. The suits at City Hall know that busload after busload of people are going to stop to have their photos taken in front of (the more famous) Terry Fox. They understand marketing. It's an insult to Steve Fonyo and it's an insult to historical accuracy.

On the plus side, Steve did get the beach where he dipped his artificial leg into Pacific Ocean named after him.

And it's a fine beach. It's actually 'my beach' - the beach where I go to think.

And I'm happy to share it with him.


  1. That is interesting, thanks for posting about the man. Maybe if he had died half way he would have been accepted more?

    but then I'm a cynic

    Nice beach

  2. oh yes, love the new picture, very lovely,

    what happened to the thing pulling the room together? and what was that about anyway!

  3. Thanks for that post - another snippet of Canadiana for me to remember - I had not heard of Steve Fonyo - not surprising now you explain it!

  4. It's interesting that you two haven't heard of Steve Fonyo... after his across Canada run, he ran the length of Great Britain raising money for cancer research over there. That was in 1986/87.

  5. Oh and the new photo is Lake Meech or Lac Meech en la belle province du Quebec... oui, oui, que sera, sera, voulez vous couchez avec moi ce soir? C'est chic!

    The pulling the room together thing was from The Big Lebowski... a most excellent film.

  6. We don't take much notice of charity stuff in Ian Botham more or less corned the market in walking the length of the country.

    deja vu eh?

    I havent seen the Big Lebowski, will look out for it.

  7. You made a very fine and accurate point with this post Marnie. And just to continue with the marketing theme, they still hold annual Terry Fox runs to continue to raise money for cancer research. Believe me, I have no grudge against either man. They were both valiant and courageous in their efforts. People should have recognized the fact that all Steve was trying to do was pick up the mantle and move forward. It just goes to show the kind of narrow minded thinking we still have in this country. Hopefully Steve has rebounded from his pitfalls and is enjoying a better life.

    And on another matter, I want to thank you for all of your kind and generous comments on my blog. It's nice to think somebody gets something out of what I share. Thank you.

  8. I was in Vernon BC (I think Steve's hometown?) a couple years after his run across Canada. I was lining up to go into a club and Steve was in the lineup also. A few guys came up behind me and also recognized Steve. These guys then began to mock and ridicule him. It was cowardly and pathetic behavior and I shamefully just stood by and watched it happen.

    Steve isn't perfect but he accomplished a selfless act that few of us would ever bother spending the time to train for and complete.

    I don't know if Steve's statue should take the place of Terry's but I bet Terry would not mind sharing the space with him at Mile 0.

  9. Mog... The Big Lebowski is one of those films you either love or hate. I love it and think it's brilliant but not very people I know agree.

    Bogey, yeah, me too. I think they were both ace.

    Kathreen, I have to disagree. :-)

    I think tributes, statues, whatevers to Terry Fox are great. Terry Fox and his friends and family made a very positive impact on Canadian society. There should be a statue of Terry Fox in Victoria.

    But, I think putting the statue in the very spot where Steve Fonyo finished his cross-Canada run is poorly thought out. Steve stood almost precisely where that Terry Fox statue above is, thanking the crowd for their support etc after running across the entire country and raising 14 million dollars. There is zero mention anywhere in the area about Steve Fonyo and what he achieved on the rainy day on May. Why is that?

    I don't expect people to agree with me. My opinions are often off in left field.

  10. Why not write to you local rag about it? Ask why Fonyo isnt mentioned??

    BTW, did you ever hear back from the land of rape and honey?

  11. I don't want to stir up anything without actually contacting Fonyo himself first. I feel a twinge of guilt just mentioning him on my blog... not that my readership is huge. He's had a very rough time and I wouldn't want to add to it. Who knows, perhaps he actually didn't want a mention at Mile 0 and I'm entirely wrong in the above rant. That wouldn't be first.

    Tisdale twits: Two emails, from two different email addresses, written in two different tones. A friend did the same... nadda. I'm working on something else though. ;-)

  12. Oh have just watched the video... what an amazing person and how glad I am that I stumbled across your blog! to do the impossible is just incredible. what a hero. Thanks so much for posting this.

  13. I think Steve had a hard time, and the media didn't help. Terry was so young, and his story rings with the kind of tragic drama that people understand and are drawn to. I still tear up when I think about Terry - can't help it. It's too bad Steve didn't have the support he needed.

    On another note, thanks for visiting me on No Chickadees. I have a blog dedicated to Scotland as well - pop over for a visit if you're feeling homesick for Britain. :)

  14. It seems to me that Steve was treated well during his run. It may have taken a while for people to warm to him because the tragedy of Terry was fresh in their minds. However, he raised $13 million dollars and was named to the Order of Canada. That seems supportive to me.
    What happened afterwards had a lot to do with the way he conducted himself. (Sadly, I just read he is having another brush with the law.) By way of comparison, Rick Hansen has been successful and is well respected.

  15. Wow! Great post, hence my blah blah blah response. Thank you for making me mad enough to actually write (although some may wish I hadn't). Keep up the good work.
    As an educator, I make a point of asking my students every year - Who do you consider to be a hero? (Usually they'll respond with a pop singer's or a popular actor's name, and eventually Terry Fox's name will surface.)
    After Terry's name is brought up, I'll ask, Why is Terry Fox considered a hero, yet Steve Fonyo, who successfully ran across Canada, is NOT considered a hero? Silence. Without fail, the last seven years have consistently revealed that NOT a single 11 or 12 year-old has heard the name, Steve Fonyo. So, every September I retell Steve Fonyo's story (after we all acknowledge Terry Fox's achievement). Every May 29th, the class honors Fonyo's achievement by making donations and running laps.
    I understand some people believe that Steve Fonyo's poor conduct has resulted in hisis responsible for his subsequent downfall, but I disagree with this assessment. I believe the odds were stacked against Steve before he even ran one metre. For starters, Steve was never a media-magnet. He didn't have Terry Fox's good looks, nor his easy-going personality. He lacked the gift of witty verbal volleys, and, most important, Steve was unable to win viewers/ listeners over upon first meeting. He lacked charisma, a gift that can't be taught and is a rarity amongst all but a few.
    We live in a society where our first impression is our 'lasting impression', and second chances don't exist. Steve was persecuted by the media (and even fellow Canadians) for being a Terry Fox 'copycat'. This infantile response made me realize if fund raising is considered a 'copycat' endeavour, then pour me a saucer of milk because I support copycats.
    18 year-old Steve Fonyo was ridiculed, criticized, mocked, ignored, teased, taunted and denied any individual success outside of Terry Fox's name. Yet Fonyo persevered and gradually support came - with expectations. Fonyo was expected to continuously be indebted to Terry Fox. I have to give Steve credit. At 18 I wouldn't have been so accommodating to the media. In fact, I'm pretty sure I would have said, Heck I'm here now, and I made it to B.C. Yet I am expected to paying respect and give thanks to this statue?
    When all one receives, day in and day out for 25 years, is public disdain, reproach, and general negativity, are we really surprised to hear that Steve Fonyo's acting out, lashing back, or presenting general negative behaviour? We created Steve Fonyo, and he is merely behaving the way we have expected him to. We've proven we don't want to give him attention for anything positive. The only time we take notice is when Steve breaks the law or does something negative.
    Fonyo can't win for losing. If he does something good, he's ridiculed or the act is discounted somehow. If he does something negative, he merely living up to the consistently low expectations we've set in place for him.
    The statue at Steve's mile 0 sums it up nicely. Steve, you are NOT Terry Fox. We'll acknowledge the money you raised with an OC, but this statue is a public reminder to ensure you always know your place. Every year I try to expand my students' Terry Fox knowledge by adding the Steve Fonyo post script as we celebrate both achievements. I also remind students that Fonyo is a living legend - a hero living amongst us.
    I will never deny Terry Fox his fame nor his brilliant idea for fund raising. He IS a hero. But some heroes are not media darlings, nor are they quick witted, and easygoing. Some heroes are a bit tarnished around the edges, but I am not about to dismiss their entitlement.

  16. And breathe, swanktrendz. ;-)

    Thanks a lot for your comment and taking the time to write that. :-)

  17. I remeber the day, I was there to support Steve. In the rain and wearing my ckda steve fonyo shirt :)

  18. Thankyou Swanktrendz for what you wrote,I feel the same way about Steve and the way he was treated.Coud not express it as well as you.

  19. Hi. My ID for here today is a loyal native concerned Canadian. I came to know something of Steve Fonyo years ago in 1985. I believe that he sought to do good for all of us. And I saw how wrongly treated he was at times. Extremely insultingly. A senior official once said something about (may I say without malice), you know what part of Europe he is from, no one from there every did anything. It was such a shocking igorant comment!..There was more to the story that he said within earshot of Steve. Steve taught us that we can try to do more and survive. Thank you Steve. As for the Order of Canada Candians could do well to check who picks those that get it? The head of the RCMP,is he involved perhaps? DO we remember what the current head of the RCMP said after another man from central Europe was killed? So to me for reasons I cannot get into here the Order of Canada is political and arbitrary? And that should be cleaned up? Are there others who have Order of Canada awards, still hold them but did damage to Canada or others Canadians, commited crime at some time? I know the answer as do some other Canadians.. Steve, thank you again for trying. These days handicapped people get more help...than they did in the past. And these days others like me are involved in alternative cancer therapy research that is very positive and some do not like to see move forward! We can do more!

  20. I am sorry but I have to write this shame on you all..Terry Fox is a TRUE Canadian hero.
    I believe that Steve Fonyo rode on Terry Fox's coat tails,everyone who runs across Canada does,he was the first one to think of doing so many people think cannot be done.
    Oh and also for the Pro Terry thoughts,I highly doubt that Terry Fox would be into drugs,drinking..Oh yes and have his Order of Canada taken away from him..Maybe you should all take a long look at yourself.
    Oh and to swanktrendz,if you truly are a teacher I think you should have no right to say that just because Terry Fox did not finish his run that he is any less of hero.He died trying to make a difference for cancer research,and once again I am sure he woud not run his name threw the mud.Like Steve Fonyo has to his own name.
    I will not take it away from both men they both are great citizen's for Canada,but maybe you should all think of what Terry Fox did and all that remains of his memory..and How much Steve has ruined all the memories people of him (Oh yes I am a Canadian,and I did learn about Steve Fonyo in school not much,but I still did learn..What about Rick Hanson,he wheeled around the world in his wheelchair..and you don't hear much about in Canadian school's)

  21. There seems to be a lot of passion for both of these courageous men, be it good or bad. I have to ask this question, If Terry Fox had beaten the cancer and gone on to live out a full and complete life, would he have kept that perfect sqeaky clean image of being able to do no wrong? Or would he have been like the majority of people in this world and made a few mistakes? Would he have the same legacy that he does today if he hadn't lost his battle?
    Steve Fonyo is only human, mistakes are made, he didn't call Ottawa and ask for the honour that was bestowed upon him, it was given to him. So to sit there and compare him to other recipients of the "Prestigious" award is unfair.
    Both of these young men have done more for this country and cancer research then probably anyone on this blog.
    So maybe instead of slagging one over the other, why don't we celebrate their amazing accomplishments.

  22. IT WOULD BE ABSOLUTELY GREAT if Steve Fonyo could carry the final torch at the Olympics today!!!!

  23. IT WOULD BE ABSOLUTELY GREAT if STEVE FONYO could be the last person to carry the torch today, in view of the very shabby way he has been treated in the past!!!

  24. Steve Fonyo WALKED. He did not run a metre. In fact, it has been reported by many independent sources that he rode in the van whenever he could get away with it. He has been self-serving from day one. Drugs and alcohol did not make him who he is now. He's been that person all along. Shame on him for attempting to exploit a true hero's legacy. And shame on you for not looking more carefully at the truth behind the shameful myth of Steve Fonyo.

  25. As a citizen of Vernon and having the opportunity to watch Terry Fox, Stephen Fonyo
    and Rick Hansen parade through Vernon, I am
    furious to think that Stephen Fonyo was NOT even mentioned by Lloyd Robertson during his
    dedication at the Paralympics. Shame on you and
    all people that could have done something about this. I was a proud canadian until now
    but cameo realize that ethnic discrimation was
    the case here. Shame on our local politicians
    for not standing up on this issue.

  26. Saw a brilliant play/musical last year. About a drunken, bitter Steve Fonyo getting egged on by an even more messed up Douglas Copeland to go desecrate Terry Fox's grave. And while they're doing so, Terry's voice appears, and sympathizes with Steve about how hard it must be for him. getting no recognition for the one good thing he's done, just because he's such a loser. It ended with a rousing audience participation sing-along of "We Are All Steve Fonyo." No matter what a botch Steve has made of his life, I think taking away his Order of Canada was a mean, petty, and pointless act.

  27. Better review of it here: