Tuesday, August 2, 2011


After 25 Greyhound hours (1 Greyhound hour = 4 normal hours it seems) and the time it took to organize a rental car and a hotel, I managed to get 2.5 hours of sleep before heading out at 4am to the mile 3339 marker. Apparently sleep deprivation is part of the creative process for this piece.

The simple marker for mile 3339
on the Trans Canada, with the 25th
anniversary plaque to the left.
The mile 3339 marker has many similarities to the mile 0 marker in St. John's. In both cases if you don't know it's there, you aren't going to find it. For both markers there are no signs, no indicators and no fanfare surrounding them.

In fact, the mile 3339 marker is just a simple wood post with a plastic plaque on the top. It was erected over 30 years ago by local resident Tim Pope, who has maintained the grass around it ever since.

Taking photos in the dark with a laptop (because I left my
camera in Montreal) is not as easy as it may seem.
Sadly, it may not be there much longer. The land it's on is about to be destroyed to twin a section of the highway, and the Ministry of Transportation doesn't have a plan for what to do about marking the end of Terry's run. They have been communicating with the Fox family, but as of now it's all up in the air.

Which is really a tragedy.

12km west you'll find the Terry Fox Memorial, a large bronze statue atop a marble base overlooking the lake and the city. It's gorgeous, no doubt, but I found the simple marker to be far more moving.

Granted, I was suffering from extreme lack of sleep when I was doing a field recording at the marker and this may well have effected my response. I did also spend some time at the big monument, and even though it's cornered the market on majesty and stellar views, it didn't have the quiet, raw power of the simple white post on the highway.

It really is a great view.
5am at the monument.

Once again the field recording didn't capture anything exceptional, except for the intangible feel of the place. And some transport trucks screaming by in the early morning.

There is a power to the simple marker, one of those intangibles that I like so much. There is absolutely nothing special about the spot where Terry stopped. It is pretty much exactly the same of most of the 800km before it, trees and rocks, trees and rocks.

Standing there, I tried to imagine the moment when Terry realized he had to stop. Earlier in the day he would have passed some service stations and convenience stores, places where he could sit and rest for a bit. Instead he kept running, and running, until he finally had to stop on this nondescript stretch of road.

A newer marker from the township
of Shuniah.
There is a second marker at the 3339 site, a plaque from the Township of Shuniah (where the marker sits) to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the run. It's nice enough, but seems incidental. Even though aesthetically it's miles beyond the 3339 marker, it just doesn't have the same gravitas.

Maybe part of it is the simple fact that the 3339 marker is the work of people in the community and not a government agency. For 30 years it has been maintained simply to hold the spot, geographically, where this amazing journey was cut short. Maybe it's because I had been at mile 0 a few days earlier, and I felt more resonance due to this.

I really hope the MTO keeps this simple wood post. It isn't a tourist destination, in fact there's hardly any room to stop at all. Terry's story isn't told there, there are no depictions of him and no fancy prose about the impact of his run (at the big monument there is no shortage of either, including an engraved passage about how Terry united the country with his run), it just marks the spot.

Maybe when it was first erected Mr. Pope hoped to see Terry back there some day, re-starting his run.

I know progress has to march on, and I'm sure there are a million benefits to the new highway, but it really will be tragic to lose this simple and dignified touchstone to one of the greatest Canadian stories of all time.

I would encourage anyone who agrees to email mtoinfo@ontario.ca and let the Ministry know that this simple wood post carries an importance that shouldn't be overlooked.

To end this trip, I'll be spending the day on the stretch of road leading to the marker, just feeling the land and looking at the views. I don't pretend for a second that walking the highway for a few hours in any way approximates what Terry did, but I think there's value in seeing the land from the shoulder of the highway (the Terry Fox Courage Highway), at a slow speed, alone with my thoughts.