A History Mystery: Kendal Street Van
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A History Mystery: Kendal Street Van

In the fall of 1979, 21-year-old Terry Fox, recovering from a recent lower-leg amputation, devised a plan to help support the thousands of Canadians who, like him, had faced off with cancer. He would run across Canada, beginning in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and wrapping up on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Figuring the journey would take roughly five months, Fox hoped to raise $1 for every Canadian man, woman and child.
The Canadian Cancer Society quickly jumped on board, but it soon became clear corporate sponsors would be needed to make this dream a reality. Thankfully, they were forthcoming. Adidas provided the shoes, Safeway donated food vouchers and cash, and Ford gave a modest camper van.
And the rest, they say, is history.

Few children graduate from elementary school unaware of Fox’s contribution to this country. Few adults would be hard-pressed to recognize the iconic figure of him half-running, half-limping along the road, crowds cheering him on. All of which is why we were immediately intrigued when reader Ben Arkin sent us a letter about a camper van he spotted on Kendal Street.

Earlier this week I was walking back to my place from the skating rink at Sibelius Park and I see this old Ford camper van parked by the curb on Kendal near Dupont. Its side is lettered, “Terry Fox – Trans Canada Run in Aid of Cancer Research”. It looks old enough to have turned its first miles on the odometer at around the time of the Marathon of Hope. I figured that it could even have been Terry Fox’s official highway escort. What a piece of history that would be! And what a shame to leave it languishing on a salty Toronto street rather than in a museum.

Arkin went to work, searching for any clues as to the van’s origins. He returned, snapped a few photos of the van’s exterior, and was “pretty excited by the results.” As he put it, a van bearing a striking resemblance to the one parked on Kendal shows up throughout videos of Fox’s journey. In one shot, Fox can be seen leaning against it to catch his breath. However, while the two vans are “uncannily” similar, closer inspection revealed they are not the same.
“Both are third-generation Ford Econoline camper vans with the same tall, white-topped camper conversion,” Arkin said, “But the left-side windows and spare tire on each van are in totally different configurations. There are other differences too.” Like Arkin, we have to wonder just where this van came from. Did Ford provide more than one van to Fox’s campaign? Did they wreck the van shown in the video and this was a replacement? Is it the same van with modifications? Of course, it could very well be the van used in the 2005 film Terry, starring Shawn Ashmore (we’ll be getting in touch with Shaftesbury Films, just in case).
Are there any readers out there who can help us solve the mystery of the Kendal Street van? Give us a shout in the comments.