Inspiring artist and filmmaker Dianne Whelan ‘83 returned to York House for the school’s 90th-anniversary celebrations on Alumnae Day
On the 90th anniversary of York House School, alumnae and special guests were welcomed back for a morning of celebration and reconnection on Alumnae Day, Saturday, September 24th. Welcomed by our new Head of School, Deryn Lavell, alums gathered together for coffee generously sponsored by Caffe Umbria.
Following a heartwarming introduction by classmate Kirsten Sutton (Koopman-Osterreicher) ‘83 and her daughter, Olivia in Grade 12, keynote speaker Dianne Whelan ‘83 took to the podium. An hour of tremendous storytelling captured our imaginations as Dianne took us on an epic overview of her six-year adventure traversing the 24,000 km Trans Canada Trail. Travelling by foot, bike, canoe and snowshoe, Dianne also managed to shoot a documentary along the way.
A filmmaker, artist, and adventurer, Dianne is ultimately a gifted storyteller and a compassionate community builder. Joined by her parents, John and Geraldine and her sister Nicole, Dianne wowed the audience with footage from her travels and reflected on the many lessons learned over the journey. She also announced that her documentary film project has received funding and in a deal with Elevation Pictures, they will assist with the theatrical release of 500 Days in the Wild in Canada.
Following Dianne’s keynote presentation, Jaclyn and Ruby, two Grade 12 students from the Green Club, conducted a very lively and engaging Q+A with Dianne. Together they posed questions about both the physical and mental challenges that Dianne faced on her six-year journey, the wisdom she gained along the way, and ultimately, what she learned about herself and her place on the planet.
The YHS Alumnae Association hosted the launch of an exhibition of new paintings on Thursday, September 22nd. Entitled “The Power of Trees: Returning to Your Roots”, the artist Marni (McLoughlin) Sheppard ‘89was in attendance in the Alumnae Art Gallery space and she was joined by her classmates from the Class of 1989 along with many family and friends.
The collection of paintings features eight portraits of trees representing the four Houses of York House School: Pine, Arbutus, Maple, and Cypress. By painting two trees of each species the artist’s goal was to capture and ignite a dialogue between these paintings and the viewer. It was a very special gathering of a community coming together to support one of their own.
The paintings in the Alumnae Art Gallery on the 3rd floor of the senior school will be on display during the school year.
On Founders’ Day, Thursday, September 22nd, alumnae from the classes of 1950-1972 were finally welcomed back to school after a three-year hiatus. Greeted enthusiastically by student executives, the day began with a tour of the 3rd floor Alumnae Art Gallery’s stunning exhibit of paintings byMarni (McLoughlin) Sheppard ‘89 and a new Museum & Archives display featuring the evolution of York House’s historical buildings over the past 90 years.
There was a wonderful sense of occasion as alumnae and special guests returned to the Golden Luncheon in the Gail Ruddy Foyer and many classes celebrated special reunions.
In particular, alumnae from the Class of 1970 celebrated their 50th year reunion and enjoyed staying on for the Founders’ Day assembly to witness their classmate, the Honorable Associate Chief Justice Heather (Fidgeon) Holmes ‘70 receive the 2022 YHS Alumnae Special Achiever Award.
The YHS Chamber Choir, led by Music Teacher, Ms. Benila Ninan, welcomed everyone with a performance of the York House hymn “Unto the Hills’, a York House tradition, followed with their version of “My Baby Just Cares for Me”, a song made famous by the one and only Nina Simone.
Other highlights of the luncheon included the Grade 2 students performing “I’m a York House Girl” (parody of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl”) and a special visit from an excited group of Grade 1s who presented Yorkie chocolate to everyone. Thanks in particular to their teachers and the Grade 7 helpers who accompanied them.
On February 19, Stevie (Bryson) Mitchell ’61, YHS Foundation Chair, welcomed guests who gathered in the Gail Ruddy foyer to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Legacy Society. The Celebrate 20 reception was attended by Legacy Society members and donors including alumnae, YHS Foundation trustees, Alumnae Association executives, YHS Board members, past and present parents and staff, and friends.
Stevie shared a fond memory of her special relationship with founding Head of School, Mrs. Lena (Cotsworth) Clarke, when she was a York House boarder. As the last student boarder to travel home on the evening train to Calgary, Mrs. Clarke always invited Stevie for dinner and then drove her to the train station in her Hillman car. Each time, she would carefully admonish the porter at the train station with a tip “to take care of my girl.” It was this lasting relationship that led Stevie to become a founding member of the YHS Legacy Society (in memory of Mrs. Clarke), and continues to inspire her dedication to ensuring more students have the opportunity for a York House education.
Julie Rousseau, Head of School, thanked Legacy Society members and Foundation donors for their generous support, which has allowed the YHS Foundation to continue to be able to offer scholarship opportunities to talented and deserving students. There are 21 scholars this year, who are dedicated to the life of the school, whether it is through their studies, their participation in community service, athletics, or the arts. They each contribute so much to the fabric of York House School. To learn more, view the York House Scholarships video.
Margo Keate West ‘93 shared some of her experiences of what it meant to her to be the recipient of the Lena Cotsworth Clarke entrance scholarship, which has since grown into the Founders’ Scholarship. “I remember my initial response as one of awe at the generosity of this community. The award wasn’t large, but it made me feel not only special, but confident, and most importantly welcome. I have rarely felt as embraced by a community as I did when I first became a Yorkie. I arrived at York House in September to begin my Grade 7 year in the Senior School full of enthusiasm and unchecked glee….I did everything – sports, clubs, musicals, outdoor ed, choir, student government, and ended my run at York House as Algonquin House Captain.”
“I’m thrilled to say that on the 20th anniversary of the Legacy Society, my husband Ben and I are now Legacy Society members. I have recently become a Foundation trustee, and we are parents to a daughter in Grade 6. Eloise is now exactly the age I was when I first wrote that YHS entrance exam, and needless to say, she is as enthusiastic about the opportunities here as I was.”
Margot introduced YHS Foundation scholar, Bianca, who is in Grade 10 and has a great passion for theatre. Bianca won the Gold Medal in the Grade 6 ISABC Public Speaking tournament, received the Grade 9 Drama and Art prizes, was placed first in the Cat’s Meow recitation competition this year, and played Lady Macbeth in the March 2020 St. George’s production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Bianca has also acquired a lion’s share of volunteer hours making public speaking, drama and improv accessible to students who would otherwise not have this opportunity.
Bianca shared her gratitude for being able to return to York House in Grade 8. “You can imagine my joy in being granted the Maria Iuon Scholarship. I was welcomed back by the school that I felt in my heart I had never left and I am profoundly grateful. I feel like YHS is continually putting the wind in my sails and launching me into a future that I simply would not have had without this scholarship. I dream that one day I will be in a position to create such an opportunity for another student a generation or two younger than me.”
Barbara (Sanderson) Armstrong ‘55, YHS Legacy Society founder, was unable to attend and asked Priscilla Clark, Associate Director, Alumnae Relations, to read a message on her behalf.
“It began in 1999… and started with a bowl of soup. Some of you know the story. You were there, gathered around a table, sipping soup and a little wine, reminiscing, and laughing about our years as Yorkies. Twenty years ago, around that table, we decided we wanted to leave a legacy to York House – a legacy that would help to enable York House to continue to deliver a world-class education to a wide diversity of young women.”
“I am optimistic that the YHS Legacy Society will continue to grow. We can contribute to this growth by telling all the Yorkies we know about the Society. We can let them know that they can make their contributions to the YHS Legacy Society now, or in their wills – where a legacy is“only a codicil away. ONWARD and UPWARD!!”
A highlight of the evening was the singing of One Voice by Ruth Moody, by three Grade 12 members of Ragazza, Margarita, Alisa, and Sophia in honour of Barbara Armstrong ’55, the first voice and founder of the Legacy Society, which soon became two, three and many more.
The annual trek out east to our alumnae in Ontario took place this year in early February. Along with Kimberley Harvey, University and AcademicCounsellor, we spent the week taking our grads out for dinner and checking in with them about their university experience.
The Ottawa gathering was held at Chez Lucien and connections were made between alumnae. Gillian Cartwright ‘03 and the Ottawa Chapter Chair welcomed everyone and shared photos of her little boy, Ben. In Toronto, 20 alumnae gathered in the Queen and Beaver pub for dinner and it was a lively evening full of chat about working life in the city, university courses, and opportunities.
The following afternoon, an impromptu happy hour had us meet at a wine bar in Yorkville and some of our alums who couldn’t make it to the dinner, popped by for a catch-up. Providing the space to meet during the day was important as a lot of our alumnae have classes in the evening. It was an enlightening and entertaining happy hour with our recent grads who talked about the ‘York House Effect’! This phenomenon relates to the known fact that Yorkies tend to be a lot more vocal when it comes to speaking up in class and giving their opinions!
Later on in the week, we travelled to Kingston and London to meet our grads for dinner. The feedback from our alumnae and parents tell us that grads feel connected, supported, and continue to feel part of York House. We shared information on mentoring opportunities through YHS and invited grads to stay engaged through alumnae events. One of the most valuable outcomes from these gatherings are the connections that are made with each other and emails were exchanged with regard to networking and career opportunities.
On Founders’ Day, Friday, September 27, alumnae from 1950-1969 were welcomed back to school by student executives. The day began with a tour of the 3rd floor Alumnae Art & Photo Gallery including a stunning exhibit by wildlife photographer, Taylor Green ’10, and a new Museum & Archives displays of sports and drama at York House.
Highlights of the Golden Alumnae luncheon included the celebration of reunions and the presentation of the YHS Alumnae Association Lifetime Achiever Award. To mark the special occasion of their 60th reunion, Mary Jean (Cooke) Otway-Ruthven ’59 wore her full YHS uniform. Both class reps, Mary Jean and Valerie (Clark) Roddick ‘59 shared their gratitude for the lovely luncheon and a most memorable reunion, which was very much appreciated by all at their table.
The Class of 1969 celebrated their 50th reunion last summer. Those from the Class of 1969 who were also able to attend the Golden Luncheon, really enjoyed staying on for the Founders’ assembly. Class rep Natalie Clarke ’69 reported, “We were glad to see the York House values still maintained and to observe the dedication of all the staff and enthusiasm of the girls.”
Shelley (Bowell) O’Callaghan ’66 received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the YHS Alumnae Association at the luncheon, where she was joined by members of her family and classmates. Shelley is an author, passionate volunteer, and advocate for social justice, who has had 30 years experience as a lawyer and recognized as one of Canada’s leading environmental lawyers.
She inspired all with the sharing of her life’s journey, especially the creation of a charity, Friends for Zambia Twitti School Project, to raise money for the construction of a school for 450 students. Shelley continues to visit the school every year, which now has a sponsorship program to enable disadvantaged students to attend the school. Click here for Shelley’s biography.
Before the luncheon was over, the Golden Alumnae were warmly welcomed by the Senior School Head girl, Olivia, and both the Junior School Head girl, Kate and Vice Head, Hannah, shared their thoughts on the Founders’ Day theme, “Finding Your True North.”
The luncheon ended after the most anticipated moment when the youngest Junior school students visit the Golden Alumnae and bring Yorkie chocolates for everyone.
The luncheon was followed by the annual Founders’ assembly. Highlights included the presentation of YHS Alumnae pins to the Grade 12 grads, and the presentation of two YHS Foundation Awards.
YHS Alumnae pins were presented to Grade 12 by the YHS Alumnae Association President and their alumnae sisters, mothers or grandmothers, a most cherished moment for Yorkie families.
The 2019 Alumnae Association Special Achiever Award was presented to Golnar Khosrowshahi ’89, Founder and CEO of Reservoir, a music publishing company. Golnar was named one of Billboard’s Most Powerful Female Executives and a Billboard Indie Power Player for 2017 and 2018. Furthermore, Reservoir was awarded Publisher of the Year at Music Business Worldwide, the A&R Awards in 2017. As she was not able to attend, a video of Golnar’s speech was screened during assembly. Click here to view the video.
Grade 4’s lively rendition of the York House March and the singing of the school song with the whole school brought back many memories. Alumnae also found time to explore the exhibits from past decades in the YHS Museum & Archives and enjoyed the Class Reunion Photo Boards.
We look forward to welcoming our Golden Alumnae back to next year’s Founders’ Day.
On Founders’ Day, alumnae from 1942 – 1968 came back to school and were met by student executives before being led on a fun school-wide tour by Laura Edwards ’74, Executive Director Advancement and Gillian Smith ’81, past YHS Parents’ Association President.
The Golden Alumnae luncheon began with the melodious tones of Ragazza, the YHS Senior choral group, led by music teacher Benila Ninan, in the singing of the old YHS assembly hymn Unto the Hills and a glorious rendition of Blue Skies. Head of School, Julie Rousseau welcomed the Golden Alumnae, YHS Legacy Society members, and guests.
“This is a very special day, one that honours our seven founders, trailblazing women, for whom I am truly grateful, who in 1932 had the bold vision to establish this wonderful school for girls.” Mary Raikes-Tindle, niece of founder Gladys (Morden) Jopling, who attended the luncheon commented, “This echoed my sentiments that these seven women, were way before their time and were very courageous and strong to take on such an endeavour.”
Julie introduced this year’s Alumnae Day theme, “Breaking the mold, overcoming obstacles, dismantling barriers and creating opportunities for both ourselves and others. Our founders clearly broke the mold as I am sure they surmounted many challenges along the way to making their dream a reality, this wonderful school for girls that continues to represent excellence in girls’ education, 86 years later.”
Stevie (Bryson) Mitchell ’61, YHS Foundation Chair, led grace in the words of founding Head of School, Mrs. Lena Clarke, and the first course was served, an aromatic squash soup with yam, apple and nutmeg, quite different from the meals recalled by York House boarders. 50th through 70th reunions were celebrated with the sharing of a myriad of memories from earlier times. A member of the class of 1958 commented, “What a wonderful day we all enjoyed. The tour of the school was very impressive and the speeches and luncheon outstanding….it was such great fun chatting with classmates.”
After the luncheon, Joanne Lee-Young ’90, Alumnae Association President, announced the 2018 Alumnae Lifetime Achiever, Irene (Triandis) Harvalias ’52, who has truly lived the school motto, Not for Ourselves Alone, throughout her life and was nominated by her class of 1952. For their nomination, they prepared an amazing handwritten book, including many photos of Irene tirelessly at work in the community and of her exquisite hand-made quilts, as well as those of her many students. Much of the finished work of the students, completed on donated sewing machines, is given to hospitals, homeless shelters and other deserving places.
The nomination book is currently on display in the Museum & Archives display case in the Gail Ruddy foyer as part of a 1950s – 60s Alumnae Special Achiever display. Samples of her quilts are hanging in the Alumnae Art Gallery on the 3rd floor of the Senior School.
Jessica and Sophia, Junior Head and Vice Head girls, shared their thoughts about the Founders’ Day theme, Breaking the Mold, “Mme Curie, Rosa Parks or more recently Malala Yousafzai and Serena Williams. All of these women are connected by a common thread – they broke the mold. These important women have inspired many people here and around the world to act with courage, persevere when times are tough, and be willing to break through barriers that limit us. We too, each and every one of us, can Break the Mold.”
Their passionate address was followed by a lively performance by the Grade 2 girls, who sang I’m a York House Girl to a rapt audience.
Following the much-anticipated delivery of York House chocolates by the youngest Junior students, YHS Head Girl Ava, Grade 12, welcomed the Golden Alumnae on behalf of the student executive and shared a few experiences from her time at the school. Joanne Lee-Young, Alumnae Association President, encouraged all to attend the Founders’ Day assembly after the luncheon.
The highlight of the assembly was the presentation of the 2018 Alumnae Special Achiever award to Kirsten Sutton (Koopman-Osterreicher) ’83. As VP & Managing Director, SAP LABS Canada, Kirsten is one of only two female Managing Directors within the global SAP Labs Network. She is also the Global Head of Engineering for SAP Jam, leading a multinational development team on a product with over 51 million subscribers.
As an unconventional tech leader and executive, Kirsten is also an advocate for girls in tech, and supports education initiatives like Templeton STEM and GIRLsmart4tech and has led the way for SAP Canada’s adoption of Autism@Work, an initiative to hire 650 individuals on the autism spectrum globally. Kirsten was recognized in 2018 as one of Business in Vancouver’s Influential Women in Business and a YWCA Woman of Distinction. All were inspired by her address to the whole school.
Other highlights included the presentation of Alumnae pins, which were given to Grade 12 students. This was an especially memorable moment for alumnae in attendance, who had the chance to give the pin to their sisters, daughters, nieces, or granddaughters.
New on the Founders’ Assembly agenda this year, was the presentation of two new YHS Foundation Awards in memory of two outstanding alumnae, Caroline Anne (Sexsmith) Trausch ’84 and Katherine Manders ’96.
The Caroline Anne Sexsmith Trausch Award was presented to Pepi, Grade 12 and the Katherine Manders award, to Grace, Grade 12.
The Grade 4 student’s energetic performance of the YHS School March and the singing of the school song all together by alumnae, students, staff and guests, stirred up many memories, which will remain with those who attended this special day of celebration.
We usually think of alumnae as being connected to the school’s past. It is true we are the holders of history and tradition. However, alumnae are also very much part of the school’s present and we have an important role in building a community for its future.
This year’s Alumnae Day culminated in an inaugural staff, students, and alumnae basketball match. Players from all generations of Yorkies answered a call for them to be in the gym.
There were two teams, each captained by alumnae, Lisa ‘05 and Jess ‘10. They were leaders in their time at the school and both stepped up early to say they would participate. Other players included alums from a range of graduating years between 1991 to 2017. There were also current teachers and parents, some of whom are alums, as well as current Tigers players in Grades 9, 10, 11, and 12.
Even though it was billed as a fun, exhibition game, it was also as intense and competitive as any Tigers game.
In a display of true Yorkie spirit, at halftime, Head of School Julie Rousseau rallied players and spectators together for a shooting competition and skills demo.
It was so great to see families of alumnae, including parents who gave much of their time and care to the school in a variety of positions in years past, come to watch.
Derek Francis, husband of the late Joanne Francis, a former Phys Ed teacher who was at the school between 1979-2001, delighted in seeing some of the up and coming Yorkie players. Gail Ruddy, former Head of School, cheered as loudly as ever.
The coming together of this event really highlighted how YHS admin, staff, teachers and coaches–especially those who are considered honorary alumnae for their long years of service to the school—stay in touch with and cheer on our alumnae.
Commenting on the game, Amanda de Faye, Class of 2010 said: “It was so much fun to see everyone, meet the girls who are current students and to play in the gym that was a second home to so many of us. Thank you as well for grouping players from the same year. Playing with Jess ‘10 again was magic. I already can’t wait for next year!”.
Thank you from the Alumnae Association to everyone who was part of this. Plans are already afoot for next year’s Alumnae Day basketball game. We’d love to see you there!
This year’s Alumnae Day was a jam-packed event that engaged our alumnae in meaningful discussions, gave classmates time to reconnect, and even asked them to step out of their comfort zones and try something completely out of the ordinary.
Our day started with both a mindfulness session with school counsellor Ly Hoang and recent grad Leah John, Class of 2018, as well as a yoga class with current parentDr. Genieve Burley. Afterwards, alumnae gathered in the Gail Ruddy Foyer for gourmet coffee hosted by Caffee Umbria owned by parent Peter Lee and his barista assistant, Joyce.
After lunch, one group attended a STEAM workshop hosted by Junior School teacher, Jen Sharpe, while another group participated in the improv workshop hosted by two grads of 2018, Anna Everett and Andrea McMinigal. Everyone else went on a tour of the school led by Laura Edwards ‘74.
The basketball game in the gym brought our alumnae back together for the afternoon and what an exciting and intense game it was. Teachers, past teachers, alumnae, honorary alumni, parents and past parents all joined together to cheer on the players and the enthusiasm was palpable.
The day ended on an artistic note with the opening of this year’s alumnae art exhibit on the 3rd floor of the Senior School. Co-curated by Brittne Potter, Class of 2012, and our own YHS curator,Julie Grundvig, the exhibit features five alumnae artists from a variety of classes and embraces the theme of “breaking the mold” through its exploration of a variety of mediums. We hope you will come up to see the exhibit – it’s well worth it!
Thank you for all who attended and made this Alumnae Day one of the best yet!