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Manitoba tribute for a Canadian icon

Civic holiday to become Terry Fox Day

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A Canadian hero is about to have a day named after him.

The Manitoba government has proposed the August civic holiday be known as Terry Fox Day to honour the Winnipeg-born Fox, who was just 22 when he died in 1981 following his attempt to run across Canada in his Marathon of Hope to raise money for research to find a cure for cancer.

Premier Greg Selinger made the announcement Wednesday.

The new name won’t be in place this year. Selinger said legislation will be tabled in the legislature this fall. The premier said he expects it to pass unanimously.

"Terry Fox embodied hope, courage, commitment and strength in the face of adversity," Selinger said in a media statement. "Naming the civic holiday after him is a way for all Manitobans to honour this great Canadian for the hero he was.

"He spent his first 10 years here, and he always had a special connection to Manitoba. I think Manitobans feel a kind of special connection to him."

Selinger said naming the August holiday after Fox is appropriate given its proximity to the marathon runner’s birthdate of July 28.

Selinger said Fox’s family supports the holiday designation, but wants to ensure Manitoba continues to promote activities that fund cancer research such as the annual Terry Fox Run.

The premier assured the family it would.

A news release Wednesday said the province made the decision after "a grassroots movement emerged on social media" calling for the change.

In an interview, the premier said there has been "a lot of buzz in the media" about making such a gesture to Fox’s legacy. "Citizens are very supportive of it," he said.

While Fox’s Marathon of Hope run was cut short, the annual Terry Fox Run has raised hundreds of millions of dollars during the years for cancer research.

"We are truly thankful and proud that the premier wishes to acknowledge Terry’s legacy, his place of birth and where he spent his early years," Judith Fox-Alder, Terry’s sister and the international director of the Terry Fox Foundation, said in an email to the Free Press.

"We look forward to hearing more about the province’s plans to name the August civic holiday after our son and brother."

Terry’s aunt, Nancy Wall, who lives in Winnipeg, called the news "wonderful" and a real tribute to "a great Canadian boy."

"I’m very pleased, naturally," Wall said Wednesday. "He was a wonderful young man. I used to think he could walk on water."

In 1980, Fox ran 5,374 kilometres in 143 days, starting from St. John’s, N.L. He was forced to stop his Marathon of Hope in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Sept. 1, 1980, when it was discovered cancer, which had already claimed his leg, had spread to his lungs.

"Terry Fox did so much in the global fight against cancer. He was not only an inspiring individual but a true pioneer," said Selinger. "Now when people are enjoying a holiday with their friends and family, they will remember the amazing man who inspires so many."

Fox was born in Winnipeg on July 28, 1958, and attended Wayoata School until he moved with his family to British Columbia when he was eight years old.

A natural athlete as a youngster, he excelled in soccer, rugby and baseball. He also did some long-distance running in junior high and high school. He was a kinesiology student at Simon Fraser University where he also played on the junior varsity basketball team.

In 1977, he was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a form of bone cancer. A malignant tumour was found in his right leg, which was amputated 15 centimetres above the knee.

Just two years later, he completed a marathon in B.C., and then started on a plan to run across Canada and raise millions for cancer research.

During the Marathon of Hope, Fox ran an average of 42 kilometres every day.

"He was always a good standup kid, and when he had this horrible thing happen to him, he didn’t want people to feel sorry for him," Wall said. "He got sick, but he was already this extraordinary person. The door opened for him to help people out.

"He wasn’t out for publicity. He didn’t do any of it to get his name out. He sincerely wanted to help out."

Wall said she’s still overcome by emotion when she thinks about her nephew.

"I have a good cry still when I think about him."

The Manitoba government previously announced it would honour Fox by designating a portion of the Trans-Canada Highway between Winnipeg and the Ontario border as Terry Fox Way. A spokeswoman for the premier said Wednesday the necessary road signage is being prepared.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

— with files from Larry Kusch

What’s in a name? Share your thoughts on the holiday name change in the comments below.

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