Like a growing number of Canadians, the family of Terry Fox has explored and claimed its Métis heritage.
Marian Gladue was deeply involved in the lives of her grandchildren, including the most famous one: Terry Fox. She was around for his birth in 1958, and visited him when he was diagnosed with cancer years later.
In 1980, when illness forced Mr. Fox to end his Marathon of Hope, a cross-country run to raise money for cancer research, the young athlete’s maternal grandmother quickly left her Manitoba home and traveled to B.C. to support him.
But despite their closeness, she was evasive with her family members about a part of her ancestry that they have now begun to explore. Years after she died in 2001, family research has confirmed that Marian Gladue was Métis. While Ms. Gladue was apparently reluctant to talk about it, her descendants have embraced the once-hidden issue, with many now declaring they are also Métis.
In effect, says Terry Fox’s younger brother, Darrell, “Terry Fox is Métis.”
Darrell Fox says members of his family are now intent on exploring “this interesting part of our lives” and what it means for Terry Fox’s legacy. Darrell Fox attended the closing ceremonies of the North American Indigenous Games in Toronto in July, and declared the Fox family “very proud” of its Métis heritage.
Métis Nation BC, which describes itself as a self-governing nation, has confirmed the status of Darrell Fox and his daughter Alexandra based on criteria that include self-identification, being of historic Métis Nation ancestry, acceptance by the Métis community and submitting an application with the correct documentation.
“Métis Nation British Columbia is proud, as it is with all Métis people in the province of B.C., that the Fox family was able to discover their Métis ancestry and made the decision to register,” the organization said in a statement.
“It is not uncommon for Métis people to discover their ancestry later in life and have the same sense of pride, curiosity and interest in who their ancestors were as the Fox family.”
An estimated 450,000 Canadians self-identify as Métis, people who trace their origins to early unions between First Nations people and European settlers. In marking Louis Riel Day this year, the B.C. government noted that the province has 90,000 self-identified Métis people, up from about 30,000 since 2006. In April, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Métis are one of three constitutionally recognized Indigenous groups, along with First Nations and Inuit.
Metis leaders and historians have noted that more Canadians are embracing their Métis heritage. “It’s certainly a trend that I would say is happening right now,” said Jean Teillet, a treaty negotiator and adjunct professor of law at the University of British Columbia, who wrote a book on the history of the Métis nation.
Ms. Teillet, the great-grandniece of Métis icon Louis Riel, says it seems to her that many Canadians want to be connected to the country’s Indigenous people, which she finds striking as people who have been part of the “settler society” find an element that casts a new light on their history. “I think it’s a fascinating trend. I think it is odd,” she said.
How much more Canadian can you get? The Métis created a culture of their own that was truly, uniquely Canadian. They were strong people who helped make this country.
Carrie Shaw, cousin of Darrell and Terry Fox
But Darrell Fox and his cousin Carrie Shaw, who did much of the research about Ms. Gladue, describe their interest as an effort to understand their past and set the record straight for future generations. And they say they are proud to be associated with Métis culture.
Now in his mid-50s, Darrell Fox says he is newly reflective about aspects of his life, including his maternal grandmother. “When you reach this point, maybe for others it’s earlier, but you reflect a bit more and you’re interested in your history and where you come from.” Mr. Fox said. “I am always interested in filling gaps and finding out more.”
Marian Gladue was the mother of Terry Fox’s mother, Betty. Marian’s great-grandmother was Madeleine Poitras, a Métis. The family believes her husband, Charles Gladue, was a buffalo hunter who also had Métis heritage. Around 1878, Charles and Madeleine moved to North Dakota after the Canadian military occupied the Red River district. Marian Gladue’s parents were born in North Dakota, and Marian Gladue was born in 1910 in Dunseith, N.D. Her family eventually returned to Manitoba.
In 1928, Marian Gladue married John Wark. They had five children, including Betty Wark, who was born in Boissevain, Man. In 1956, Betty married Rolland Fox. They had four children. Fred, followed by Terry, Darrell and Judith. In 1966, the family moved from Winnipeg to Surrey, B.C. and then to Port Coquitlam in 1968.
It was Carrie Shaw, who lives in Cochrane, Alta., who decided after Marian Gladue’s death to try sorting out her grandmother’s past. Ms. Shaw is the daughter of Betty Fox’s brother John Wark. “I have always loved history, family history, my history, where do I come from, why do I do some of the things I do, or like to do,” she said in an interview.