The Toronto Star on Steve Fonyo losing his Order of Canada
He figures he deserved the prize when he received it, and ought to be able to keep it.
But there’s something curiously apt about his losing the Order of Canada, yet retaining the Humanitarian Award he also shares with Frank Sinatra. The ballad of Steve Fonyo has always been mercurial.
That, and the fact they both hailed from British Columbia, was about the extent of the similarities. Where Fox was charismatic, blue-eyed and golden, Fonyo always seemed strangely detached. His manners were crude, his speech awkward.
There was even a species of resentment in the land that someone like Fonyo would dare to walk in Fox’s footsteps, sullying the great one’s legacy.
Fonyo’s journey was mostly met with indifference until he hit the British Columbia border and money, finally, started to roll in. A victory lap ensued at B.C. Place stadium; he’d become a hero of sorts, feted as such.
In the usual ceremony at Rideau Hall, then-Governor General Jeanne SauvÃ© made him an Officer of the Order of Canada. A month later, it was SauvÃ© again presenting Fonyo with Variety International’s Humanitarian Award at a Toronto gala.
Fonyoâ€™s life has been more or less unravelling ever since. He could never really outrun the shadow of Terry Fox nor, it seems, his own dark demons.
By the end of 1987, he’d watched his father die of cancer, split with his fiancÃ©e and been charged with impaired driving. Fonyo was also broke, which is why his 1983 Chrysler LeBaron convertible had been seized by the bank for failure to repay a $21,000 loan.
He’d used his beloved red sports car as collateral to finance another charity run, this one the length of Britain, itself a sad denouement that raised little awareness and scarcely any money.
The odd good thing did happen. A group of Vancouver car dealers kicked in enough money to reclaim the Chrysler LeBaron, have it repaired, and then returned to Fonyo.
And he got to carry the Olympic torch on part of its journey to Calgary for the 1988 Olympics.
A year later in Edmonton, though, the artificial leg he’d used to take part in the local Terry Fox Run was stolen from his car, which Fonyo had left unlocked in a parking lot overnight.
It just went on like that, a carousel of mishaps and run-ins with the law, the rubric of which always seemed to be, `what was he thinking?’
This would include the time Fonyo hit his landlord on the head with a crescent wrench, opening a gash that required 29 stitches. Or the time Fonyo was charged with stealing his own car after he’d sold it to a pawn shop. The car in question: A certain 1983 Chrysler LeBaron.
It almost seems inevitable that Fonyo would get caught writing NSF cheques to supermarkets to pay for cigarettes, which he’d then barter for cocaine.
I think all Canadians remember Terry Foxâ€™s failed run and his death and then Steve Fonyo picking up the torch and finishing the run for him. Itâ€™s wasnâ€™t long after that that the first new stories that documented Fonyoâ€™s struggles started to appear. I wasnâ€™t surprised to hear that the Order of Canada had kicked Fonyo out but I was surprised that it hadnâ€™t happened already.