British Columbia

Terry Fox's brother reminisces about camper van that supported Marathon of Hope

The Vancouver International Auto Show is filled with flashy, glamorous and high-tech cars. But one vehicle will stand out, even though it's none of those things. The Van of Hope, a Ford Econoline, is the vehicle that supported Terry Fox during his Marathon of Hope for cancer research in 1980.

Ford Econoline on display at Vancouver International Auto Show

Terry Fox, centre, with friend Doug Alward, left, and younger brother Darrell Fox with the Van of Hope in 1980. (Submitted by Darrell Fox)

The Vancouver International Auto Show, which kicked off on March 19, is filled with flashy, glamorous and high-tech cars. But one particular vehicle will no doubt stand out, even though it isn't any of those things.

The Van of Hope, a Ford Econoline, is the vehicle that followed closely behind Terry Fox during his Marathon of Hope for cancer research in 1980. 

Terry's younger brother, Darrell Fox, was on the road with him back in 1980. He says Terry ran 3,339 miles (5,373 kilometres), and the van was there for each and every one of them.

Fox says he still gets emotional when he sees the van.

"I go back to 1980. It's almost the same reaction when people look at the van [now] as when [they were] watching Terry run.... It is quite emotional to recognize the role the vehicle played for Terry," Fox told On the Coast guest host Jason D'Souza. 

The Fox brothers slept in the van, which had been camperized with a mini-fridge, porta-potty and bunks. 

The restored Marathon of Hope Ford Econoline, as seen today. "They restored everything but the smell," says Darrell Fox. (Submitted by Darrell Fox)

What a long, strange trip it's been

Loaned to Terry by Ford Motor Company in 1980, the van was returned to a London, Ont., dealership after the marathon came to an end. It was sold to two families over a 20-year period.

In 2007, the then-owner gave the vehicle to his son Bill Johnston, who lived in Vancouver.

For the next seven years, Johnston used it as a touring vehicle for his heavy metal band. He told Fox the van never let the band down, even after they put over 350,000 kilometres on it and toured all over North America. 

"Just like Terry, it kept running," said Fox. 

Terry Fox standing in front of what is possibly Canada's most famous van during his run to raise funds for cancer research. (Submitted by Darrell Fox)

In 2005, Canadian author and artist Douglas Coupland published a picture-based biography on Terry Fox. Coupland was at a house party in Vancouver a few years later when a party guest mentioned seeing a picture of the van in his book.

The guest said, "By the way ... it's parked down the street from where I live," Fox recounted. 

Coupland told Fox that night, and the next morning they found the van where the party guest said it would be: not far from the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver. 

"There it was. As soon as I rounded the corner I knew what I was looking at," said Fox, who had not laid eyes on the van for 27 years. 

Fox purchased it, and Ford Canada agreed to restore it. 

"They restored everything but the smell," he said. 

The Van of Hope is on display at the Vancouver International Auto Show until March 24 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

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With files from On the Coast