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Teaching Today's Kids About Terry

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Even today, Terry Fox has a profound effect on many Canadians.

Nestled near the corner of Jane and Finch, Topcliff Public School is home to more than 400 gleaming faces who, for as long as they could, politely listened yesterday to tales of Terry Fox in an airless gym.

The stories came from me. Terry Fox is a passion. He has always been, but when I wrote an alphabet kid’s book called M is for Maple, F stood for Fox.

When I went into schools to read the book, I found myself fighting back tears at the Terry Fox page. No number of repeat performances could quell the sadness so I began explaining to the kids that adults cry too and if they could see past the red eyes and trembling lips, there was a story to hear.

Nancy Steinhauer, a friend, asked me to talk to the kids of Topcliff on their Terry Fox Day. First though, came a session on Future Aces, a legacy from Herb Carnegie, a great star kept out of the NHL by the league’s colour barrier.

Children sang, posters were raised, drums were pounded before the high-wire act that is keeping more than 400 kids engaged was executed to perfection. The message was about character.

Jane and Finch garners more than its share of headlines, but the inside of that gym was safe and hopeful and illuminated by incandescent goodness that flowed from those 400 faces and I was blessed to be among them.

They listened. They learned. And when Duke the Dog, the Toronto Marlies mascot made an impromptu appearance, they went wild.

We walked. Nearly 4 km under a perfect autumn sun, in a beautiful ravine, beside 1960s institutional housing and finely-kept homes with swirls of wrought iron wrapped around the front steps. The kids pounded their drums and shouted support for Terry Fox. They told you their names without a moment’s hesitation. One little boy grabbed my hand and held on for blocks.

There is nary a word in the news about Topcliff School, only about the pestilences it tries so hard to inoculate these children against. But it is there trying, and so are they, the 400 shining faces, marching for a gallant hero and in so doing, in their own way, preparing to be heroes themselves.
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