Day 226 - Lena

Day 226 - Lena (3rd person I approached)
August 14, 2014 - Lena and I arrived at the top of a staircase at the same time. I tried to allow her to go before but she stated she was slower and that I should go ahead of her. I joked that I would clear a path for her. She replied

“If I fall, I’ll land on you.” I said I'd brace myself. When I got to the bottom step, I heard Lena counting.

“I’m counting the steps I take each day. It’s a new chapter in looking after my health,” she said. Lena headed in the same direction I was going. Naturally, I asked her if she would chat with me. We found a bench nearby and for the next 45 minutes or so, we chatted at length.


Lena was born in Eskilstuna, Sweden.

“My mother was Finnish born Russian and my father was born in Poland. He was imprisoned in a concentration camp during the war that was later liberated. He and my mother met in post-war Sweden. They came to Canada because my father didn’t want to live in a Europe that had Stalin in it,” said Lena. The family, including Lena’s older sister, settled in Toronto.

“In her late teens, my mother had won a small lottery, and with her winnings, she had come to Canada. She got a job as a domestic. Some nine years later she decided that she wanted to become a nurse. Not being one to read newspapers or listen to the news, she returned to Europe in 1939. The year the war started,” said Lena.

“So there was a familiarity with Toronto. I was just months old when we moved to Canada.”


Growing up in Toronto, Lena wasn’t particularly fond of school.

“I was a straight A student, but I wasn’t very social,” she said. Over the course of the next several years, Lena was on a journey of exploration and discovery.

“I basically became hippie. I lived in cooperative housing and made art. A group of us were interested in Buddhism. We took a road trip to the ‘Mothership’ which was a monastery near Mount Shasta in California. It was called the Zen Mission Society. One of the group that we traveled with was already a monk. I decided I wanted to become ordained. I stayed there at the monastery for eleven months and became an ordained Junior Monk,” said Lena.


After her time at the monastery ended, Lena took a bus to Vancouver, BC (British Columbia), and then a train back to Toronto. Lena remembers sitting up the entire journey without her back touching the seat.

“I had spent so much time sitting in meditation,” she said.

“I got a job working in restaurants as a server. I enjoyed the people and the work. I decided to go to the Ontario College of Art. I enrolled and did my foundation year and then spent a year learning not very much about photography. it seemed the instructors weren’t really teaching anything. You produced work and it was critiqued. That was college. I lasted two years,” said Lena. After some more time in restaurant work, Lena made her way back to BC.

“I had a friend that was living on Galiano Island (off the coast of BC). I slept on my friend’s couch and the very first morning when I woke up, the first thing I saw was a brochure for Emily Carr College of Art & Design. I applied and got accepted but I ended up deferring for a year and working in restaurants,” she said.

“I loved going to Emily Carr. I realized that photography wasn’t what I wanted to be doing and switched to painting. It was wonderful. I remember one of the teaching assistants walking toward me with a box filled with oil paints. I was so excited!” Lena spoke of finding a comfort with other people around his time as well.

“I forged some great friendships at Emily Carr. Everyone got along so well and there was a very social element amongst the student body. I had so much fun there,” she said.


After completing her diploma program at Emily Carr, Lena decided that she would return to Ontario and go tree planting for a season.

“I wanted to make some money to support my painting. I had a bad back already from a car accident and the tree planting didn’t work out very well. I ended up back in Toronto. A friend gave me a commission for a painting at Garth Drabinsky’s Ford Centre for the Performing Arts in North York, Ontario. I did a painting that measured twenty-two feet by seven feet. After all the preparatory work and planning, I spent three weeks doing the actual painting. I was exhausted after that project,” she said. Lena made her way back to Vancouver and got her Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Emily Carr. She then went on to complete her Master’s degree in Art Education at Simon Fraser University (SFU), in BC.


Lena has perfected her craft in teaching art, and now offers private and semi-private classes in an intimate studio setting.

“I’ve put together an extensive curriculum. It covers the basics with my ‘Drawing for the Absolute Terrified Beginner’ to more extensive and focussed training. I want to offer all the things I fell were missing from my training. Some of my students have progressed so far as to now be studying in Europe. I’ve had a number of students that were with me for a number of years,” she said. Lena enjoys seeing the students progression and to see them recognize their own progression as well.


“I’m a collector and keeper of things,” said Lena.

“I recently started going through some boxes and things that I’ve carried around for years. I spent a fair bit of time working through some stuff, and I don’t feel like I made much headway. But it’s a start. I’m all about fitness and clearing out right now. I feel like I’m clearing things out to make way for a new chapter.” #notastranger

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