In memory of Terry Fox Elementary’s Mrs. Loland

The Abbotsford school's beloved teacher, who passed away on Jan. 31, is being remembered with a large mural donated by a Surrey artist.

Artist Travis Vagner of Surrey puts the finishing touches on a mural on Monday at Terry Fox elementary in memory of teacher Julie Loland.

Artist Travis Vagner of Surrey puts the finishing touches on a mural on Monday at Terry Fox elementary in memory of teacher Julie Loland.

Almost five months ago, the students, teachers and parents of Terry Fox Elementary gathered on the grounds of Abbotsford Regional Hospital, beneath the room of ailing teacher Julie Loland.

There, on a wet, cold winter day, they sang their school’s theme, The Terry Fox Song, to help buoy her spirits and show how much they cared about her.

Loland, 37, who had been battling cancer, died the following day, on Jan. 31, leaving an entire school in mourning.

On Monday, the school gathered once again to sing The Terry Fox Song for their beloved teacher.

This time, it was in the warm summer sun at Babich Park – across from the school – at a celebration of Loland’s life.

Teachers, students, parents and friends paid tribute to the woman they described as inspirational; passionate about life, teaching and her family; and as having an infectious spirit.

“We’ve been so lucky to even have a glimpse of the love and passion that was our Mrs. Loland,” said fellow teacher Heather Chan.

Student-crafted floral paintings lined the chain-link fences of the park, acknowledging Loland’s love for art, which was also reflected in a massive tribute to her that was completed only an hour before the gathering.

A 50×20-foot mural, created by Surrey airbrush artist Travis Vagner, now graces a wall on the west side of the building, overlooking the school’s basketball court.

The left portion of the painting features a poem titled “A Hummingbird,” written by Loland in 2012 while she was undergoing her struggle with cancer.

For Loland, hummingbirds symbolized “living in the present and being mindful of the world around us,” Chan explained at the celebration of life.

A pair of red gumboots was added to the mural in memory of the footwear that Loland often sported.

A large portion of the mural represents the scene on the Abbotsford Regional Hospital grounds, with a large hummingbird hovering overhead.

Blossoms on each side of the painting are orchids, Loland’s favourite flower.

The artwork was initiated by Vagner who, a few months ago, posted on his Facebook page that he wanted to do a donated mural project. He had previously done so at Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children in Vancouver, and asked for suggestions for his next project.

He received several ideas, including the one in tribute to Loland. He researched the background, and the story moved him.

“The reason I liked this was it was a cool project – the way the whole school came together,” Vagner said.

He met with a group of about 10 teachers and administrators to brainstorm ideas. The final project – his largest ever – took him about 10 days to complete.

School principal Luigi DeMarzo said the artwork is a legacy to a teacher who deeply cared about teaching and children.

Also in memory of Loland, her Grade 2 class, which she taught with fellow teacher Michelle De Jager, planted a tree. At the celebration of life, mourners tied ribbons of yellow, blue and purple – Loland’s favourite colours – around its branches.

A blue bucket will hang from the tree through the summer, inviting the community to keep it watered.

Loland taught in the Abbotsford school district for about 10 years, and had been at Terry Fox Elementary since 2004.

She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in January 2012 which metastasized to her lymph nodes while she was pregnant with her third child. Loland was dealing with a second round of chemotherapy and raising her three young sons – ages one, four and eight at the time of her death – with her husband Reuben while earning her master’s of education degree from Simon Fraser University.

(Photo below: During Julie Loland’s celebration of life on Monday, held by Terry Fox Elementary staff, students and parents, ribbons were tied to a tree that is planted on the school grounds in her memory. Credit: Vikki Hopes)