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A tribute to Vacay.ca’s Julia Pelish

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Julia Pelish, who co-founded Vacay.ca and is one of Canada’s finest travel photographers, passed away on March 10, 2016 after a battle with cancer. (Photo by Adrian Brijbassi; Design by Sheri Bodnaruk)

Julia Pelish turned a passion for photography into a celebration of the human experience. She made her mark as a portrait, wedding and travel photographer, while also creating mixed-media artwork and jewelry. Her travel photography was featured in the Toronto Star from 2008-2011, and since then in Vacay.ca, the online magazine she co-founded with her husband, Adrian Brijbassi.

Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, Julia lived in Long Island, New York, then Vancouver, British Columbia, then Toronto, Ontario, and then back to Vancouver in 2013. In her work with Vacay.ca, Julia drew attention to some of Canada’s most incredible and little-known destinations, helping to drive awareness of the nation’s broad and deep cultural riches. She became a Canadian citizen on January 29, 2016, an achievement she was keen to celebrate.


Julia Pelish’s photography has been displayed at galleries in New York, Toronto and Vancouver. (Sally Gooding photo)

As a wedding and portrait photographer, Julia brought happiness to clients who remain forever touched by the images she produced. So many of her clients have said her photographs are the ones that adorn special places in their homes and in their hearts.

Julia passed away on March 10, 2016, after a year-long battle with gliobastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer. Her legacy will be in her photography, the never-ending love she shared with Adrian, and the community of friends and family who formed around her during her life, and especially among those who rallied around her to support her in her fight.

She leaves behind her adoring husband, Adrian Brijbassi; two sisters, Elizabeth Campanella and Christine Craig; two brothers, Stafford Pelish III and Matthew Pelish; five nieces and nephews; and a legion of loving friends and extended family members around the world, as well as more admirers than she was ever aware.

Eulogy by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor

Magic exists in this world. Its greatest trick is that we don’t see it when it’s at work.

In March of 1994, I was a skinny and rebellious kid from Canada who found himself working at the oldest newspaper in New York state, in a tiny town with a tongue-twister of a name. Career-minded, I had big ambitions to go far in my profession and entered the Poughkeepsie Journal knowing my time there would be short. I wanted work experience. To practise the craft I studied, to do what I needed to do before moving on to pursue the aim of working as a journalist in a far bigger place with far more exciting stories to tell.

Poughkeepsie was meant to give me a start in my working life. I did not fathom that in my time there I would receive the gift of a lifetime, the gift of an eternity.

During one work shift, I saw Julia. She wore blue jeans and a white, long-sleeved shirt that buttoned up and hung down past her hips. Her face was lovely, with skin that glowed and eyes that struck me hard like a wave. They were sad eyes. She was lonely, as was I. Her eyes, however, were also two other things. First, they were the most resplendent, shimmering and spellbinding hue of blue I had ever encountered in the waking world.

But here is the second thing about Julia’s eyes I want you to know. I had encountered them before. It’s perhaps what made those eyes so spellbinding to me. They were familiar, even on first sight.


Julia Pelish and Adrian Brijbassi co-founded Vacay.ca. The couple met while working together in New York state. (Sally Gooding photo)

Six years before I met Julia, I had a dream about her. She entered my imagination one night and left me perplexed because of the power of the moment. Her hair slid just below her shoulders, as it always has. Her presence came in a smile, a touch of affection. She evoked in me sensations of comfort and peace and happiness all at the same time. The vision of her eyes was ephemeral yet the experience of seeing them clamped itself firmly onto my memory. I did not know what to think of this dream, only to remember the force of it and wonder often, “What was that about?”

I would learn the answer. It was about love. The magic of it, the call of it, the destiny of it.

Julia and I were happy for more than two decades. She filled my life with inspiration, devotion, trust and partnership. We had adventures, we had successes, we had failures, we had bliss.

We gained wonderful friends, some who are here today, some who wish they could be. In the past year, Julia got to hear from so many of them and those correspondences filled her heart with delight and made her realize how much people adored and admired her. Julia did not see the best qualities in herself, though she possessed more of those attributes than anyone I’ve ever met. Knowing she meant so much to so many profoundly impacted her.

She was most touched by the prayers and the prayer circles that formed around her. There is magic in that premonition I had of her eyes and there is magic too in those prayers. People from around the world sent her way well wishes, positive thoughts, pleas to powers far beyond what we can comprehend. I believe those thoughts did have an effect.

Julia has always had in her a boundless energy and enthusiasm to get up and go. Keeping pace with her could have been a sporting event. She walked fast, she ice skated fast, she was eager for the next corner to reveal itself, the next adventure to come into our life. In our first years living together in Long Island, we would drive once or twice a year from New York to Montreal with one of my co-workers named Kevin. He was a fit enough guy, but could not believe Julia’s energy. She walked around the city tirelessly, wanting to see as much as she could. One March afternoon she decided the three of us were going to climb Mount Royal. This was shortly after the ice storm of 1998, when trees were ripped from their roots, blown over and tumbled upside down. Julia began to climb, striding past fallen trunks and branches, managing to manoeuvre over the icy patches. Kevin and I struggled to stay near. Halfway through, he called her the Energizer Bunny. When we ascended the summit after about an hour, he delivered the punchline. At the top of the viewpoint of Mount Royal is a road most people use to reach the sight-seeing spot. Upon observing cars rolling toward us, Kevin was stupefied that we had chosen to walk. Incredulous, he exclaimed, “We could have driven up here?”

Julia laughed while he panted and tried to catch his breath. She then began to do what she did so magnificently well, photograph the scene with meticulous care.

In these past difficult months, the disease stole her mobility. Long walks like that one, which were her daily joy, were taken away because the menace had limited the right side of her body, rendering her leg and arm numb. She needed a cane to move. The fatigue of fighting so hard tired her terribly, forcing her to stop after only a block or two. Then it sent her to a wheelchair and then it did the most evil thing, it started to take her eyesight. That sense Julia coveted the most because it gave her the ability to photograph and to create so much beautiful art.

What the disease did is atrocious but keep in mind Julia did not struggle long. She could have been tormented for years. And she also was not in any severe physical pain. For that, we should be grateful. For that bit of mercy, I believe the prayers for her well being and for compassion were heard. The sickness was denied the chance to define Julia. Her suffering was brief and because the disease did not have a long stay, her condition is not what anyone will remember about her.


This shot of a pelican surfing the wave off of Fernandina Island in the Galapagos chain is one of Julia Pelish’s fine photographic images. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

People who knew Julia knew her for her warmth, her kindness, her genuine sweetness and grace. They knew her for her beauty and wit, her lovable New York accent, her silly sense of humour and endless charm. They knew her for always assisting others, for cheering on her friends, family, even strangers — and supporting me, most of all. They knew her for her child-like wonder of the world and the curiosities in it. They knew her for putting herself second no matter how often we all told her to think of herself first. They knew her for all these wonderful things. It is the greatest treasure of my life that I was fortunate enough to know her best.

Julia is still with those who love her. Her magic is bursting among us still, like her laughter and her glowing smile have always brightened a room. She is here in this space, forever in our hearts.

Rest, my Julie. You will be with me always. Rest, until I see your eyes once again. My great love, my best friend. My true companion. My dream girl.

Julia Pelish-Brijbassi Tribute Program: Thursday, March 17, 2016

Funeral Mass, 10-11 a.m.: Holy Rosary Cathedral, 646 Richards Street, Vancouver, BC
Celebration of Life Tribute, 12:30-2:30 p.m.: Hamilton Harron Funeral Home, 5390 Fraser Street, Vancouver, BC
Reception, 3:30-5:30 p.m.: Vij’s, 1488 West 11th Avenue, Vancouver, BC
St. Patrick’s Day Gathering, 6 pm-late: Shark Club, 180 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC

Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.

One Comment

  • Karen Taylor

    December 5, 2016 at 3:29 am

    In the process of surfing the Web and researching various subjects, I started out looking for background information on two of Gustav Klimt’s painting, “Tree of Life” and “The Kiss,” read your comments on the latter, and from there happened upon your Web site and your beautiful eulogy for your wife Julia Pelish-Brijbassi. My condolences to you for your great loss and my gratitude to Julia for her heart – and her art.


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