Steve Fonyo | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Steve Fonyo

Stephen “Steve” Charles Fonyo, runner, cancer research activist (born 29 June 1965 in Montreal, QC; died 18 February 2022 in Burnaby, BC). Despite losing most of his left leg to bone cancer at age 12, Fonyo ran across Canada in a “Journey for Lives” to raise money for cancer research. His remarkable 7,924 km run started in St. John’s on 31 March 1984, when he dipped his artificial leg into the Atlantic Ocean. It ended on 29 May 1985 with a similar dip into the Pacific Ocean in Victoria.

Fonyo was inspired by fellow British Columbian Terry Fox. He had attracted worldwide attention with his attempt at a similar run in 1980. Fonyo received less publicity and support at first, but he emerged from Fox's shadow by passing beyond the symbolic point outside Thunder Bay, Ontario, where Fox had aborted his run. Thousands lined his route and packed auditoriums to cheer him on and give increasingly larger donations to the fund; it eventually reached approximately $13 million. For his efforts Fonyo was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, making him the youngest recipient of the honour at that time. In 1986, after a period of recuperation, he embarked on another fund-raising run for cancer research, running from the northern to the southern tip of Great Britain. Fonyo completed this run in May 1987 and announced that he planned no further cancer-research marathons.

Fonyo later struggled to direct his life in a purposeful way. Though a successful mechanic, he suffered from depression and was often embroiled in legal trouble that led to jail time. Because of his criminal convictions, Fonyo's membership in the Order of Canada was revoked by the Governor General in December 2009.

Hurt (2015), a documentary about Fonyo’s life directed by Alan Zweig, won the Platform Prize at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and the award for Best Feature Length Documentary at the 2016 Canadian Screen Awards.