Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Hello To Canadian Disability Hall Of Fame

Five wonderful Canadians have just been inducted into the new Canadian Disability Hall of Fame at the 16th annual dinner.
You don't have to be a veteran editor like me to spot the contradiction in that first paragraph. If it's a new hall, how come it was the 16th induction?
The reason is that thanks to the obstinate Fox family, who agreed to the start of the Terry Fox Hall of Fame - that honoured disabled athletes, others who triumphed over physical disabilities, and those who helped them - we on the selection committee have had to drop the iconic Terry Fox name.
Too bad! Since the Hall began 16 years ago, with David Crombie as chair and a dozen reps from the community, including me, as committee members, we have honoured some of the most famous people in the country. The great leaders who started the CNIB (Edwin Baker) or headed paralympic games (Dr. Robert Jackson) or were noted athletes (Rick Hansen) were honoured each year with induction into the Hall of Fame. Their accomplishments are remembered in the hall on the ground floor of the old headquarters for the Metro regional government.
Even though Betty Fox, mother of Terry, agreed to our original rules and criteria, and even though the Fox family was often at the induction dinner, at our expense, and even though the Foxes received more money and publicity from the Toronto hall than any other organization, the Fox family threatened legal action against the selection committee and the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons (which is the foundation for the hall.)
Betty Fox, and Terry's brother Darrell, were firm. We could no longer use the honourable Fox name. Betty argued that we had sold out to corporations because banks and other Canadian companies helped with the costs of the induction dinner. She objected too that a magazine featuring the latest recipients also contained ads. So we renamed the dinner and the magazine, dropping the Fox name at her request because she said Terry would have been embarrassed.
But we kept the hall's name. After all, more than 60 Canadians were members, from Mona Winberg and Cliff Chadderton to Jack Donohue, Linc Alexander and Vicki Keith Munro. Names that most Canadians know and respect.
As a subcommittee of Crombie, Senator Con Di Nino and me argued when we met with a Toronto lawyer for advice on how to deal with the Fox demands, any corporate contributions and ads went to cover expenses and to subsidize many at the dinner. The disabled community of the Greater Toronto Area, which includes many with modest means, found the induction dinner a great place for networking. Any suggestion it was a monied affair for the glory of corporate Canada was ridiculous. Even though premiers like Mike Harris and Dalton McGuinty have often spoken at the dinner, speakers have also included the Lieutenant Governor (and David Only is in a wheelchair) and famous disabled athletes like this year's speaker Chantal Petitclerc. Chantal is one of the most successful Canadian athletes ever on the international stage, and I'm including athletes who aren't operating out of wheelchairs.
Vim Kochhar, the inspiration for the hall, explained again and again to the Foxes that any fund-raising went to the operation of the hall and the dinner. We thought that Betty Fox and her son Darrell were worried that the hall operations somehow interfered with the Fox Foundation's enormous fund-raising through the world. But even after Darrell Fox and the foundation separated, there was no change in attitude from the family.
So we debated other names at great length and finally came up with Canadian Disability Hall of Fame, which sadly doesn't have the instant mystique when it was called after the great Canadian whose stubborn bravery electrified a nation.
The 2009 recipients on Oct. 26 were the late Jeff Healey, the legendary jazz guitarist, Diane Roy, a world champion at the Beijing Paralympic Games, David Hingsburger a famous therapist, advocate and writer in the disabled world, and Gary and Jill Taylor, tireless volunteers who spend all their time working for others.
Terry Fox would have thought they were wonderful people, even if his family no longer want his name to be associated with such great Canadians.

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