By day, I am a historical domestic interpreter and historic cook at a world class living history museum, Upper Canada Village, which is located in Eastern Ontario, along the St. Lawrence Seaway. I specialize in historic cooking, preparing and serving period correct meals and desserts from recipes published in 1866 or earlier. I cook in an open hearth and also on a step cook stove, manufactured in Ontario in 1877. I teach children to bake and cross stitch and I have the privilege of interpreting and demonstrating Canada’s history on the eve of our Confederation for visitors that travel from across the world and close by, to visit us. Prior to attaining my dream job in 2018, I started out in fine arts, worked in child protection, banking and higher education management.
By night, I am,,, hmmm, artist, antique sampler collector and reproductionist, cross stitcher and the owner of 1897 Schoolhouse Samplers. I live in a one room schoolhouse that was indeed built in 1897 and own a church built next door in the 1920s. My husband, Grant, and I are also caretakers of three classic British vechiles, a 1957 Series I Land Rover, a 1980 ex-military Series III Land Rover formerly deployed as part of the British Army of the Rhine and a 196I Triumph TR3a. I have spent many years learning to paint and draw and teaching myself many different crafts, including cross stitch.
As caretaker of a growing collection of antique schoolgirl samplers stitched from 1726 to 1939, collected mostly from Great Britain, with the remainder from the U.S.A, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Switzerland and Canada and owner of 1897 Schoolhouse Samplers, I am committed to reproducing antique needlework and producing patterns for the modern stitcher, increasing exposure and interest in historical textiles and needlearts within and outside the stitching community. I present to individuals and groups interested in my collection and in learning more about samplers and their history.
Bringing history back to life
Life in 1860s Upper Canada
Lianne van Leyen
Historical Domestic Interpreter
Upper Canada Village
I was born and raised an hour north of Kingston, Ontario. My family has lived in the area for generations. As a young child, my paternal Gramma and Grampa Smith lived just up the hill. I spent a great deal of time with them. So much so, that tucked away upstairs under the eaves of their cottage-like home was a tiny room with beds for my sister and I. My Gramma "drew the mail" and my Grampa was a beekeeper. Some of my first memories and the photos that underpin them, are of my grandparents, their dogs, my sister and I camping at Farran's Point campground, riding The Moccasin, the miniature train at Upper Canada Village and watching the lake and ocean going ships moving through the St. Lawrence Seaway locks at Iroquois, Ontario. My Grampa loved to take photos and make my sister and I laugh in the process. I suppose asking young children to say "Fuzzy Pickles" is a sure-fire way to make that happen, every time. Touring the Village wasn't possible, so instead after we rode the train I spent a long time deliberating and selecting a present from the village gift shop to take home to my mom. In the gift shop there was a wall with old glass candy jars lining the shelves. Each jar contained a different shaped and fragranced bath soap. I would fill a brown paper lunch bag and clutch it all the way home, eager to see my mom's face when she opened the bag, year after year, after year. I remember coming home for a visit during college and my mom still had those tiny soaps displayed in a glass jar...
Finally in public school, I was able to tour the Village. I remember lunches with my friends on the picnic tables beside the Harvest Barn. Being taken to a area outside the Village and our class divided into groups and assigned a fire pit, already set up with a tripod and big cast iron pot. We made stew and dumplings. Oh my goodness, they were good! They never tasted the same when I tried to make them at home.... I remember being so intrigued and inspired after learning about all the natural materials that you could use to dye fabric and thread. I came home and picked sumac berries from my Grampa's yard and proceeded to learn how many maggots lived in them, as they floated to the top of the boiling dye path in my mom's good soup pot. I found out that I prefered the experience of using natural dyes when I used onion skins, instead of sumac berries.
After graduating from college in 1996, I met my husband, Grant. I brought him to the Village. We spent time touring, watching and chatting with the interpreters. We came back again and again. At first once a year, that eventually became 3 to 4 times a year and finally we bought season's passes. I / we would frequently make the 45 minute drive down, just to walk the grounds outside the Village and buy fresh Village Bakery bread from the gift shop. Often those loaves never made it home intact. Instead they suffered through attacks that left gaping hunks torn away. We took great joy in touring the Village in the Fall and Winter. Making reservations for dinner at Willard's, watching the colour advance as Summer turned to Fall. Escaping the bitter cold, savouring the warmth of dinner and a glass of hot apple cider. Sharing our joy in the splendor of A Light at Night as Christmas approached each year.
I spent many, many years dreaming of working at Upper Canada Village. I toured many other living history museums and they were evaluated against the Village. I continued to wonder if I would ever get a chance to be on the inside of such an organization. All while I worked my way along the winding path of my career, in child protection, banking and higher education management. I was sure that the path from where I was in my career to my dreams would mean a return to college for a third time. Finally a time came when I sought the assistance of a job counsellor. Kim Wall questioned and challenged me. She asked me what I wanted. I knew the answer. I had always known. I wanted two things, to own my own business and work at Upper Canada Village. It took many months of discussions, false starts and an acceptance, that was subsequently declined to return to college for a third diploma, for me to commit to following the path of attaining these two goals.
In March 2018, I registered 1897 Schoolhouse Samplers as a business. In May 2018, thanks to the generous support of my dear friend, Ann McDonald, I launched the release of my first pattern, Above the Sky, Mary ann Raywood ~ 1818. The launch took place at Knowledge and Needles, during her shop's Spring Open House. In May, 2018 I was also asked to live my dream and become an employee of Upper Canada Village as a Domestic Historic Interpreter. A year later, I earned a position in the cooking unit as a Historic Cook.
It took what feels like a long time to make it to this place. A place of contentment, learning, connection and camaraderie. For years, I viewed my career as something of a failure. Unlike many, my career has never been a straight line. However, eventually I began to see my career as one of growth. I began to envision it more more like a tree, rather than a straight and steadily climbing road. The roots were a love of history, learning, making and doing. The trunk my formal education centred around art, history, children and business. The branches the experience and skills attained through positions held in multiple sectors from entry level to executive. All of which culminated in the leafing out of the canopy, my business, 1897 Schoolhouse Samplers and my contributions to life in the 1860s community and family known as Upper Canada Village.