John Wiens remembers well the day Terry Fox came to town.
It was 42 years ago July 12, the day that has been proclaimed Terry Fox Day in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The young man had just passed through Toronto on his Marathon of Hope, and suddenly everyone knew what he was doing, the goal he had set for himself, and everyone wanted to meet him, says Wiens.
He remembers Gloria Ghetti, president of the local Cancer Society, asking at very short notice, maybe a couple of days, if the Prince of Wales Hotel could host an afternoon event.
Joan King, organizer of the annual Terry Fox run in Simcoe Park, says Fox was coming to Niagara Falls to meet Jay Triano, a basketball star from the falls who had been a student at Simon Fraser University in B.C. Somehow Ghetti arranged for Fox to pay a short visit to NOTL.
Wiens was part-owner and general manager of the hotel, and scrambled to find space for the event. The Victoria and Albert Room, which would have been his first choice, was booked — it was the middle of July, at the height of the tourist season, and both the town and the hotel were busy.
The only room not in use was Vikki’s, the disco, also named after Queen Victoria, so he arranged for some sandwiches and prepared to greet Terry.
“I was looking forward to meeting him. I remember shaking his hand,” says Wiens, “He just stood in the middle of the room, and people went up to talk to him. He was very quiet, very humble.”
Wiens says there was something about him “that you just knew was special. You really felt you were in the presence of someone special.”
At that point, those in the room sensed he was going to accomplish something great, and the atmosphere was one of pure excitement, said Wiens. “I was very proud to have hosted him at the hotel.”
It was a short visit before he was whisked away, and it wasn’t until later that those who met him felt the excitement turn to sadness, knowing his cancer had returned, and he was not going to finish his marathon.
King says with the Terry Fox Run returning to Simcoe Park this Sept. 18, after a two-year absence, she wanted to do something special, and asked Lord Mayor Betty Disero to proclaim July 12 Terry Fox Day, which she has. Disero also quickly arranged for a bench on King Street, near the entrance to Simcoe Park, to be dedicated to Fox.
On Tuesday, July 12, King will mark the day at the bench for its 9 a.m. unveiling, and will stay there to sell T-shirts for the Terry Fox Foundation.