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Jack Knox: Terry Fox a frontrunner for a spot on $5 bill

Terry Fox on the $5 bill? Having one of those in your pocket would be a nice reminder of the kind of Canadian he was, Rob Reid says. It would remind us of what the rest of us aspire to be.
Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox.

Terry Fox on the $5 bill? Having one of those in your pocket would be a nice reminder of the kind of Canadian he was, Rob Reid says. It would remind us of what the rest of us aspire to be.

Since last week, when the Bank of Canada revealed that it would be looking for a new face for the five, Reid, founder of Victoria’s Frontrunners stores and champion of all things Fox, has heard the Marathon of Hope runner described as an automatic favourite.

A variety of (less than scientific) media reader polls reflect that. Some people even argue the $5 note isn’t good enough, that Fox should be on the $100, though Reid disagrees: “I think that would be too rich for Terry.” Fox was more a five bucks kind of guy: humble, hard-working, honest, one of us.

“The more we promote what it is to be a Canadian, the better, and Terry is an example of that,” Reid says.

Which brings us to the core question: What’s the point of putting someone’s image on a banknote? What’s the message we want to convey?

It’s a question that Oak Bay’s Merna Forster posed seven years ago when she began campaigning to get more women on Canadian currency.

“Who and what is celebrated on our banknotes matters, as it reflects what we consider important in our culture and history and who we consider worthy of honouring for achievement,” she wrote Justin Trudeau. “Women are not absent from the list of notable worthies in Canada, just notably absent or under-represented in many of the images that surround us and which contribute to our view of the world and our potential role in it.”

At the time, the Queen, who graces the 20, was the only woman represented. Even that was a regression; she used to gaze serenely from all denominations, but in 1969, got bumped off four of them by dead prime ministers: Sir Wilfrid Laurier on the five, Sir John A. Macdonald on the 10, William Lyon Mackenzie King on the 50 and Sir Robert Borden on the 100.

Forster’s efforts worked. When the Bank of Canada asked the public to nominate women, it got 26,000 suggestions. Forster was on a seven-member advisory council that pared down a list of 461 eligible nominees — they had to have been A) Canadian citizens and B) dead for at least 25 years — to a long list of 12. Finance Minister Bill Morneau ultimately chose Nova Scotia human rights activist Viola Desmond, whose image began appearing on $10 bills in 2018.

A similar process is planned for the $5 note. The Bank of Canada is expected to begin accepting nominations this month.

So, who should it be? Another woman? Or maybe anyone except an old politician. Diversity comes in many forms.

Among the suggestions so far: the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie, author/activist and former Victoria Times columnist Nellie McClung, Wayne Gretzky and, inevitably, Don Cherry. Reid even saw a mock-up of a five featuring furniture retailer Gordy Dodd, which you have to admit is pretty awesome.

But back to the question: What’s the point? What are we trying to say when we choose to feature someone on currency?

It’s not a popularity contest; it isn’t something as transient as Employee of the Month.

On the 40th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope, Reid knows where his heart lies. He chairs the board of the Terry Fox Centre, which is looking for a permanent home for thousands of Fox-related artifacts that the Fox family wants put on public display.

Those include everything from the famous Ford Econoline camper van in which Terry and his younger brother Darrell and friend Doug Alward slept during the Marathon of Hope, to Fox’s prosthetic leg, to his beat-up old socks, to a signed photo from Dolly Parton and the glass jug (still with some water in it) that Terry dipped in the Atlantic when setting out from Newfoundland on April 12, 1980. And, oh yeah, don’t forget the porta-potty. “It was in the van, and Darrell used to have to clean it out,” Reid says.

After years of searching, the options for the Terry Fox Centre have been pared down to a couple of Lower Mainland locations. The board hopes to announce something by the end of 2020. In the meantime, it looks like an exhibit will be staged at the PNE this summer.