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Terry Fox's brother recalls travelling in marathon van

The beige van that served as Terry Fox’s home during his 1980 Marathon of Hope journey across Canada is more than just a vehicle. It’s a piece of history that carries many memories for his brother, Darrell.

“That was my home too,” he told The Canadian Press in an interview, recalling the memories of living in the van along with his brother and his friend, Doug Alward, as Terry Fox ran across Canada to raise money for cancer.

In January 2008, the Ford Motor Company restored the camper to appear as it was when Fox used it in 1980.

The van is currently on display in the lobby of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que., until July 3.

Looking back, Darrell Fox, 49, says he cannot comprehend how the three boys shared such a tight living space.

His brother slept in the biggest bed, while he and Alward crammed into the top bunk.

The van was equipped with a fridge, stove and portable toilet that needed to be emptied — and Fox says they argued about who would be responsible for that task.

The van — marked with Terry Fox’s name and the purpose of his journey — also had tinted glass windows, an unusual feature for a van in the 1980s, but an important one for the van’s purpose.

“That was Terry’s sanctuary,” said his brother from Chilliwack, B.C.

“It’s where he escaped from the chaos.”

The van became a familiar sight to Canadians who followed the Marathon of Hope, which began in April 1980, when Terry Fox dipped his foot into the Atlantic Ocean in St. John’s, N.L.

He travelled for 143 days and ran 5,400 kilometres when, on Sept. 1, 1980, he was forced to stop because his bone cancer had spread to his lungs.

He died the following June.

Following his death, the van was sold to a new owner in London, Ont., who kept it until 1984.

A second London resident then owned the van and gave it to his son, who drove it to Vancouver in 2000 and used it as a touring vehicle for his heavy metal band for seven years.

The van was only found by the Fox family when author Douglas Coupland — who wrote a book about Terry Fox with Darrell Fox — attended a house party in Vancouver and learned the vehicle was not far from where he was.

“It was the very next day that we went on a search mission to find Terry’s home,” Coupland said.

Fox and Coupland located the vehicle and the owner’s son reminisced about what it was like to drive the van, saying it felt like Terry Fox was in the van with him.

Shortly after their meeting, the Fox family took ownership of the vehicle, which Darrell Fox describes as priceless material.

After its restoration, he says the van was used rather selectively.

“The challenge is that we don’t want to put mileage on it, so we don’t want to drive it,” he says, adding it accumulated 360,000 kilometres over the years.

Fox says his family will work on finding a more suitable, permanent destination for the collection piece when the current viewing of the van is over.

“The van is there temporarily and right now, we’re just really happy that the collection is finally in really good hands,” he said. “It will be preserved and managed for future generations to enjoy.”