Julie Ann Elizabeth O’Rourke was a person who loved life and shared her joy for life with those who knew her. She was pre-eminently successful as a scholar and an artist, provided deep insight into any challenge of the heart, and never missed an opportunity to bring friends and family together.

She was a photographer and a fine artist. She received her BFA from York University and, after backpacking through Europe, Australia and Southeast Asia, pursued an MFA from Ryerson University, doing major projects in New York City and the George Eastman House in Rochester. Her master’s work focused on the restoration and conservation of photographs, particularly from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. She loved to bring old and new forms together. At VHS, Julie was in the process of matching fine art and photography to short stories, analyzing both for the human experience and explaining how one related to the other. Her project was, to our knowledge, the first of its kind in a secondary school setting. She had hoped to pursue a second master’s degree in the field of art therapy.

After a three-year battle with a rare cancer called adenoid cystic carcinoma, Julie passed away in March of 2011. Her love of life and people and adventure never diminished through that fight, despite extraordinary pain and persistent bad news, and that is a testament to her extraordinary strength of character. Two months prior, she had celebrated her thirtieth birthday.
Now, 10 years later, her friends and colleagues reflect on her special light and the impact she had on so many lives. Her life and legacy are truly inspirational, and we’re honoured to support young artists every year in her memory through the Julie O’Rourke Scholarship.

Please join us in honouring Julie’s memory.

I had the pleasure of working with Julie while she worked with Virtual High School. While working together, we shared stories, jokes, theories, and talked about life in general. We also spent a number of days out on the lake during the summer and we had a fantastic time attending the Kings of Leon concert in London. I have many fond memories, but when I think of Julie, the first thing I think of is her light. There is no other way to explain it and it’s difficult to put it into words to make someone understand (unless you knew her, then you already know what I mean). Julie just had a remarkable way of making you feel happy and inspired, just by talking to her. It didn’t matter what she was going through, she always had a smile and exuded positivity. That was the most inspiring and impressive thing about Julie. She was one of the strongest and most beautiful people I’ve ever been blessed to know. She was a friend to everyone and made the world a better place just by being in it. I can honestly say that knowing her, even for a short while, made me a better person and I am thankful every day that our paths crossed. I will always miss her light. 

– Ashley Homuth

Julie had a deep love of travel and adventure. She hiked in Thailand, dived at the Great Barrier Reef, surfed in Portugal, jogged in Central Park, and moved amid the artistic community of Paris. She would frequently admonish her friends, “Don’t talk about doing something — do it”. Her friends were both numerous and diverse, and she was equally at ease at an academic discussion in a fancy restaurant or a random gathering in rural Ontario. The common thread was her very deep love of people; she had a peculiar way of seeing right through a person, and usually liking what she saw. For Julie, there was never any question that her friends and family would be compatible, and she never missed an opportunity to bring the people she loved together.
Julie showed tremendous creativity in the work she had planned to do in our English courses. With her background in visual arts, she provided new, exciting ways of seeing how our courses could be made more appealing to younger students. She was excited about the possibilities of working with VHS and for bringing her own unique talents to serve the interests of teachers and students. I was keenly interested in working with her and know that VHS would have benefited greatly from the tremendous contributions she would have made had this been possible. 

– John Smallwood

While Julie and I never worked together at VHS, it comes as no surprise that she had such a lasting effect on the people here. Personally, I was blessed to have Julie as a best friend since we were in Kindergarten and she was by my side through many adventures and many ups and downs. I remember how much she enjoyed working at VHS because of the work she was doing and the people she worked with. She loved sharing her passion for art with students and it was a great creative outlet for her. I am proud of VHS for honouring Julie’s legacy through the Julie O’Rourke Memorial Scholarship. She was a talented woman, and the scholarship is a wonderful way to continue her creative legacy by supporting other young artists.
Julie was one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. She was caring, creative, and had the ability to make lasting friendships wherever she went. She loved adventure and was always up for a bit of fun. She acted with humour, courage, and positivity even when life threw her curveballs. I always admired her for being so many things I wasn’t, but I also know that neither her nor I would have been the same people without each other’s influence. There is rarely a day that passes where I don’t think of her and smile. 

– Sandi Baker

Julie knew how to capture the light. Through her lens, through apertures open for only the instant that a sparkle blinks from a ripple; through the illumination of art and music and hand-crafted beauty; through wind gusts and wild flowers and big waves; through laughter, and conversations, and radiant enthusiasm expanding outward from her magnificent family and her loving friends, to everyone who had the experience of meeting her. Julie captured the light that there was and what the light revealed, and showed you what she saw; or maybe it was that she made you feel like you could see what she saw, like you could share in that brilliance; and then the world made more sense; and then, the world was brighter. 

– Vance McPherson


For more information on the Julie O’Rourke Scholarship, please visit our awards page. Applications are due August 1st each year.