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We Are Shaped by the Obstacles We Face
Public art commission made in collaboration with DTAH Landscape Architects; James Roche, Elnaz Sanati and Alexandra Walker

Terry Fox (1958-1981) was an athlete, humanitarian and activist who underwent cancer treatment at a young age, and was inspired to raise both funds and awareness for cancer research. He began his Marathon of Hope in St. John's Newfoundland on April 12th, 1980, with the daunting goal of running across the country at the rate of one marathon every day. Over the 5,373 kilometres of terrain he crossed, every step was a test, and every obstacle an excuse to quit. Yet Terry Fox didn’t, and we continue to be awed by his astounding perseverance to this day.

We Are Shaped by the Obstacles We Face is a collaboration between artist Jon Sasaki and landscape architects
DTAH, and begins with a bronze statue of a teenaged Terry Fox, made in collaboration with digital sculptor Adam O'Donnell. It depicts Terry Fox shortly before he was diagnosed with bone cancer in his right leg.  His pre-chemotherapy hair appears wavier than his trademark curls, and frames a face filled with quiet fortitude as it contemplates the road ahead. The artwork continues in the form of a path that, like Terry's journey, flows westward and is interrupted by a series of three formidable granite obstacles. Each granite slab is an opportunity for visitors to contemplate obstacles they might have encountered, or are currently struggling with, in their own lives. We Are Shaped By the Obstacles We Face is a permanent integrated public art and landscape architecture installation that strives to convey this to visitors in an experiential way.


The planting design throughout the undulating landscape represents Terry's journey, spanning from the Northern Boreal to the Southern Carolinian regions. Medicinal plants like St. John's Wort, known for their anti-cancer properties, and the resilient Sweet Grass, symbolizing strength for the Métis people, have been thoughtfully incorporated along the pathway. Additionally, landforms have been planted with host species to attract Monarch butterflies, serving as a powerful symbol of transformation and the journey they undertake.

Visitors enter from Queen’s Quay and experience the obstacles in a southwesterly direction, ending at an elevated vantage point at the west edge of the park. When viewed from the bench, the granite impediments converge into an anamorphic illusion, visually transforming into the familiar silhouette of Terry Fox running along the Trans Canada Highway. The image was inspired by a photograph by Gail Harvey, who has generously given permission for its use. The intention of the artwork is to invite reflection on the way many challenges can shape and strengthen us if we have the tenacity to face them bravely as Terry Fox did.

Below: anamorphic silhouette as it appears to a viewer seated on the bench.

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Above: photo by Gail Harvey, 1980. Below: preliminary 3D model of components.

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Above: Craig Jarvis at the east end of the sculpture group.

Heartfelt thanks to Darrell Fox and the Fox family, Craig and Judy Jarvis, Geri Berholz and Leslie Scrivener, Rebecca Carbin and Art+Public, James Roche, Elnaz Sanati, Alexandra Walker, Stephanie Mah and Marc Winters at DTAH, digital sculptor Adam O'Donnell, Marina Guglielmi and Tyler Balko at Maker Sculpture, Shaun Walker at ImagineIt, Vincent Roy at Polycor and Rock of Ages, Tony Vizzini, Moises De Lima, Alexia MacLeod and the team at Somerville construction, Julia Carew, Anna Ingebrigtsen, Ilidio Coito and the team at Waterfrontoronto, the Waterfront BIA, The City of Toronto, the City's Parks Department, Catherine Machado and the City's Public Art department, Annie Koyama, Ruth Jones, Gail Harvey for her inspiring photograph, The Federal Government and the community of donors who helped make this possible, and thanks to Terry Fox for setting such a luminous example for all of us.

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