This post is part 4 of my 10-week retrospective looking back at a specific trip from each year of the 2010s. Read more about the series here. Today I’m talking about my 2013 trip road trip across Canada (or part of Canada cause Canada’s really big). Previous editions of this series include
This post could be massive. I want to write everything I can about the solo road trip I took in 2013, driving from Calgary, Alberta to Richmond Hill, Ontario (just outside of Toronto). I made plans to go to the travel blogging conference I’d been to before in Vancouver and Denver. In 2013 the conference was in Toronto, but instead of just flying there I decided to do a solo road trip through a company called Hit the Road. You basically sign up to deliver someone’s vehicle to them (usually it’s people moving from one part of the country to another, or delivering vehicles for Canadians who go south for the winter).
Pretty sure people thought I was insane, but I really wanted to do this trip because I wanted the experience of a week-long solo road trip. I liked travelling alone, but usually, I was in a city like London or New York, not driving across rural Canada. I wanted the chance to see parts of the country I never had before. I love taking road trips, and stopping to see roadside attractions like “the world largest such and such” or “this town is the home of something or other.” And it was the perfect time to go. I was off from University (summer break) and was only freelance writing, so I didn’t have to worry about work (I did have some money saved up for this trip as well).
I want to write everything I can about this trip. About the friendliness and hospitality of family and friends, I stayed with on the way (most nights were in motels, but a couple of nights I got to stay with family). About the roadside attractions that I saw. About the cities and towns that I briefly stayed in, but I’m just going to narrow my focus to one city and really one moment on this trip.
Thunder Bay was my fourth overnight stop on this trip. That morning I had driven from Winnipeg and the drive took longer than I’d anticipated. I’d been used to 100km/hour or even 110km/hour speed limits, but crossing over into Ontario the speed limit went down to 90km. There’s a lot of lakes and trees (very foresty) and less open fields and prairie driving like I’m used to. I get the speed change from a safety standpoint, but I expected to get from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay in 7 hours. It took 9 (granted I made sure to stop along the way and get out and stretch my legs). In Thunder Bay, I stayed in a motel and went down to the shore of Lake Superior. I could understand why this lake was called Lake Superior because it was massive. You can’t see the other side of the lake; it feels like an ocean.
That’s not the moment I want to focus on. It came the next morning when I headed out of Thunder Bay I made a point to stop at the Terry Fox Monument. Now if you are not Canadian you might not know who Terry Fox is, but he’s a Canadian icon. Terry Fox was just an average teenager when he was diagnosed with cancer and had to have his leg amputated and replaced with a prosthetic. This was back in the late ’70s and in the early 1980s, Fox went on a marathon across Canada. His goal was to run from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, British Columbia and to raise $1 for every Canadian (about $24 million at the time). Today charity marathons are pretty common, but back in the early 80’s they weren’t.
Unfortunately, cancer had spread to his lungs and shortly outside of Thunder Bay Terry Fox had to stop his marathon. He passed away 9 months later at the age of 22. But Fox’s Marathon of Hope (as it was called) did raise that $24 million. Every September there is an annual Terry Fox run in cities across Canada, raising money for cancer research and treatment. Terry Fox died June 28, 1981, which is more than three years before I was even born. I was not alive during The Marathon of Hope, but in Canada, you learn about Fox and his marathon and humanitarian effort in school. One year the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Channel) did a series on who the greatest Canadian is/was and Fox was picked as the number one Canadian.
I wanted to visit this monument and lookout point. I thought I’d take a moment and stretch my legs and then be on my way. But I didn’t expect to be overwhelmed with emotions when I got there. And there isn’t anything amazing about the statue itself, not in a physical sense. There isn’t a gift shop or interpretive centre or tour here. It’s just a statue of a young man at a nice lookout point about 15km outside of Thunder Bay. When I parked the car and got out I just kept thinking “I can’t believe this man ran a marathon from St. John’s to this point, with a prosthetic leg, with cancer.”
My journey to Thunder Bay had been in the opposite direction of Fox’s (west to east) and I only started in Calgary, Alberta. I wasn’t running (I got to drive). I wasn’t raising any money for cancer research and treatment. My journey was more selfish because I just wanted to travel and see more of Canada. I remember feeling tired in Thunder Bay, and then I felt like an asshole because I thought of how tired Terry Fox must have been during his marathon. While driving toward Thunder Bay I noticed the landscape started to get hillier. Although these weren’t mountains they were big hills. Thinking about how Fox was running up and down this terrain made me feel very humble. It was at this point I began to cry.
A lot of people have debated what it means to be Canadian and what the Canadian identity is/was/will be. There are multiple answers that Canadians could give depending on a huge variety of factors. I doubt any two Canadians will have the exact same answer to that question. For myself, I never felt more humbled, inspired, and proud to be Canadian than I did standing beside a granite statue of Terry Fox outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
I don’t actually like the travel part of travelling (aside from road trips). I just like being in a new place or another place. Visiting the Terry Fox statue outside of Thunder Bay I could see, for a moment, how the journey is the important part. Sometimes it’s hard to see or understand this when you’re on the journey (whether it’s a physical trip somewhere or life itself). The road trip I was doing wasn’t really about my end destination, but about all the little things I saw and did along the way.
Terry Fox didn’t make it to Victoria as he planned, but that’s not his legacy in Canada. We don’t remember Terry Fox because he didn’t make it to Victoria, because his cancer became too aggressive and forced him to stop his marathon. We remember Terry Fox because he started this marathon, because he inspired hope, and because sometimes the journey is more important than the destination.
Things You Should Know
The Terry Fox Monument is located about 17km northeast of Thunder Bay just off the TransCanada Highway. Map here.
I was in Thunder Bay only for a brief night on my 2013 cross (part of) Canada road trip. I stayed at the Econo Lodge Thunder Bay, which was a decent budget option. If you’re not on a budget there are plenty of hotel options in Thunder Bay, which you can book here.
Check Out Some More Posts About Canada on Take Me to the World