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British Columbia history that informs readers while entertaining them.

Remembering Terry Fox, Old Trains, the Galloping Goose

Almost 20 years ago, when I began writing my twice-weekly historical column in the Cowichan Valley Citizen and (for 10 years) a once-weekly retrospective in the Nanaimo Daily News/Harbour City Star, a friend predicted that I’d “be starved for material in four months”.

“Not a chance,” I replied. “In four months I’ll have more to work with than when I started.”

This wasn’t idle bragging but based upon years of experience.

You see, and to give but one example, every time I go to an archives to research, say, one, two or three specific subjects, I come home with a half-dozen—or more—new leads. Without exception!

Quite simply, historical research is like digging a hole. The more you dig the bigger it gets.

If my friend saw me, today, with red pen in hand while I read a newspaper he’d quickly realize where many of my leads to articles about events and persons from the past come from.

You know that old expression, cut and paste? Well, I don’t paste. But I sure to clip. And download.

In print or online, the news media is my partner in producing, for the Citizen alone, 104 regular columns and a special Remembrance Day edition each year, running, on average, just in excess of 800 words each. That’s well over 80,000 words per year, for 19 years. Not to mention magazine articles, blogs and books.

Many, if not most of them, have been inspired by current news headlines

The problem is, there are so many of these tempting stories in the news that I can’t keep up. Too, when I actually do write about them, what’s meant to be a passing reference, a tip of the hat, so to speak, often ends up as a full-length post.

And I fall further behind.

So, if you’re so inclined, settle back, put your feet up and let me share with you some recent news stories that caught my eye, beginning with one that’s special to me…

One can be forgiven for thinking that they’re not making heroes any more. They are, of course, but I’m referring to the real kind of hero not today’s so-called celebrity of dubious merit and even lesser duration.

And they don’t come any bigger than Terry Fox.

Many Americans remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news that John F. Kennedy had been shot.

I can remember where I was, what I was doing when it came over the radio, in June 1981, that Terry had died in hospital, a month shy of his 23rd birthday. I was heading home along Fisher Road, Cobble Hill, on the west side of the Island Highway. At that time of year the wild broom was a blaze of yellow on both sides of the road; to this day, when I see broom in flower I think of Terry Fox.

For 143 days the 22 year old from Port Coquitlam, B.C. had run 5373 kilometres (3339 miles), from St. John’s, Nfld. to Thunder Bay on an artificial leg. Having lost much of his right leg to cancer, he was out to cross all of Canada to fundraise for cancer research to, “not only overcome my disability, but conquer it in such a way that I could never look back and say it disabled me”.

But Thunder Bay was as far as he got in his Marathon of Hope.

The return of his cancer, as we now know, was terminal. But Terry Fox lives on in the Canadian psyche, bigger than ever he was in life, and the memory of his courage and determination has raised 100s of millions of dollars for research into cancer.

All of which explains why I’m so pleased that the Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, has partnered with the Fox family and the Canadian Museum of History to showcase a collection dedicated to Terry Fox, April 12-Oct. 1. It’s part of Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations.

The exhibition spotlights the impact Fox has had on modern Canadians:

● Numerous schools, community centres and geographical features now bear his name.

● His image has appeared on postage stamps and coins.

● Annually, around the country (and not just in Canada) communities and groups hold Terry Fox runs to raise even more millions to battle cancer.

A star of the Terry Fox Exhibition is the 1980 Ford Econoline van that Terry used during his marathon, since restored and normally on display in the Canadian Museum of History, Ottawa. There will also be personal items including his journal

Terry may be gone but his memory and his marathon go on and on and on, 27 years later.

He set out to raise $1 million. To date, the Terry Fox Research Institute has raised almost $700 million for cancer research in Terry’s name. $700 million!

You can find further information at

Heroes? Can any of us even begin to imagine what courage and determination it took to try to run across Canada on one real leg and another of steel and fibreglass? Every jarring step would have pressed into real flesh and bone. And to try to continue to go on as the pain became ever more excruciating—?

May Terry’s memory go on running and raising research dollars until the evil that is cancer is finally and totally defeated.

I’m not a dreamer, and I’m not saying that this will initiate any kind of definitive answer or cure to cancer, but I believe in miracles. I have to.” – Terry Fox

* * *

Two battered boxcars were also in the news, having been placed on working display in the new Roundhouse development, just across the Inner Harbour from downtown Victoria.

Although you don’t often hear the name these days, this is Russell Station, original home of the Esquimalt & National Railway and site of its nationally designated heritage roundhouse which is now part of the Roundhouse commercial/residential development.

Its rustic brick buildings from the railway era are a landmark to the thousands of passersby who daily enter or leave the city by way of Esquimalt Rd. and the Johnson St. bridge. When I was a very young sea cadet in the long ago, travelling to and from the Rainbow Sea Cadet barracks in Esquimalt, my bus would pass what was then an operating railyard.

My eyes would be glued on the massive junk pile at the south end of the shops.

Why? Because—I swear—for a long time what seemed to be an almost complete steam locomotive (probably just its boiler, but I was a kid) stood upright on its nose in that junk pile.

I grew up on steam trains, although not those of the E&N so much. Where I lived in Saanich, my house was one property removed from the Canadian National Railway line that ran from Victoria to Lake Hill (now part of Victoria’s phenomenally popular Galloping Goose Trail)..

Originally it had gone all the way to Sidney but the miles of track between Lake Hill’s Cedar Hill Crossroad and Victoria and the rest of lower Vancouver Island via Sooke had long been torn up. What was left was a working railway and the CNR, like the competing CPR, owners of the E&N, began converting from steam to diesel locomotives in the 1940s.

By the ’50s, the time of my childhood, the E&N had all but dumped its steamers for diesel engines (which explains the wreck in the junk pile) but the CNR was still running steam on Vancouver Island.

Lucky me!

The trains that ran by my house twice a day huffed and puffed and blew great gobs of smoke and steam and I loved them! I can still smell the oil and feel their humid breath from being up close to a parked and panting 10-wheeler.

Fortunately, I don’t still feel the sting of the strapping I got from the principal in Grade 5 for dropping an orange down a locie’s smokestack as it passed beneath my feet on the Boleskine Road bridge one afternoon after school.

There would have been other lickings if our parents or teachers had known that my chumns and I often hitched rides on the slow moving freights. We’d run along behind, where we couldn’t be seen by the engineer, fireman and brakeman, to climb up and hang onto the ladder at the end of the last boxcar, there seldom being a caboose.

Once the cars were unhitched at the Growers Winery warehouse on Quadra Street, we used those ladders to climb to the roof to reach through a vent with our stick-arms to extract grapes. I’ve no idea what variety they were (mostly green with a reddish hue as I recall) but they were sweet. Which explains, perhaps, my preference for wines over hard liquors. (Mind you, a gin and tonic would hit the spot…)

There’s no doubt whatever that these childhood memories made me a lifetime aficianado of trains (preferably steam) and railways generally.

Now living in Duncan, I enjoy the luxury of being able to visit the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre and ride their shortline behind a real steam engine or a gas-powered locie.

The best time to do this is in the evening at Halloween and Christmas when there are special train excursions. If you’re lucky, and it’s cold and clear, you can ride in an open car beneath a star-studded winter sky as you breathe in the cologne of smoke and oil and steam.

For kids of today this must be an incredible adventure. For an experienced pro like myself, one who’s been blessed to have known the real thing, it’s still pretty good!


Hardly had I written this than I found another recent clipping in my file. This one is about the former CNR trestle at Swan Lake, now an integral link in the Galloping Goose Trail (aka the Lochsyde Trail) needing expensive repair.

I should explain that this is the trestle at the foot of Brett Ave., one property down from where I lived. To us kids it was the Little Trestle to distinguish it from the Big Trestle at Saanich Rd., a mile or more to the north. The repairs in question weren’t for the trestle structure itself (which, when I revisited it several years ago looked to be absolutely sound) but for the decking.

Railway trestles are only decked when they become bridges for pedestrians and cyclists. In this case the wooden planking required replacing and Saanich council was agonizing over the choice of resurfacing materials.

Although trestles aren’t quite the same once they’re decked and railinged for safety purposes, I can see them in my mind’s eye as they’re meant to be, with open stringers (crossties). And if my memory needs jogging, I just have to stroll along the E&N here in the Cowichan Valley to see a trestle as it’s meant to be…


I said I grew up one property removed from the CNR line in Saanich. Well, history has repeated itself. I now live one property removed from the CNR’s Tidewater Line which ran between Cowichan Bay and the mainline at Deerholme. I and my dog Sophie walk almost a mile of it several times each day, schedule permitting.

Talk about deja vu!


  1. GREAT post, TW! I, too, have a deep love for old locomotives! I wasn’t aware of the boxcars on display down at the old E&N, I’ll have to try and pop by to see those.

    • While you’re there be sure to check out the roundhouse which has been kept, the new development having been built around it. Certainly nothing like my Sea Cadet days! –TW

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