We spoke to Anna Lengstrand – the wild, inspiring woman who was raised in the North of Sweden, but later settled down in BC, Canada. It wasn’t the original plan, but somehow the incredible nature of British Columbia stole her heart, and never quite gave it back. Keep reading, to discover how it all went down.
Anna is wearing the Minna Fleece Vest in Camel.
You’re a photographer, jewelry designer, adventurer living in Whistler, Canada – How do one end up living a life that seems taken from a movie?
I spontaneously moved to Canada alone 11 years ago. I honestly just wanted to come skiing for a few months, and I had never dreamed of moving to Canada. But once I got to know BC better, I fell in love with this area. Everything that I love to do in life (hiking, skiing, riding horses in the mountains, snowmobiling, mountain biking etc.) I can do here, all in one place. I had to start life from scratch when I moved here, find friends, housing, jobs, even retake my drivers licence (you can’t swap the Swedish out for a Canadian one). I worked my way up with many different entry level jobs (it didn’t matter that I had a masters degree in Sweden). Getting work permits and visas are far from easy, and it’s very difficult to get to stay. I guess I slowly built this life over 11 years. Baby steps. But I’ve definitely had to work insanely hard, to the point that I almost gave up several times.
I grew up with one foot in Gällivare, and one foot in the countryside in Uppland. But my heart has always been in the north. I’m a mountain woman. Raised by a strong and independent mountain woman, and mentored by my power house and very inspirational and hard working mountain man grandfather. Nature, the outdoors, art, sports, Sámi culture and handcraft, and animals have always been a natural part of my life, and I have chosen to live a life based on these values and interests.
My family has taught me to be tough and hard working. That no weather will stop you, you just have to dress accordingly. I was taught to stand on my own two feet, to be independent. Mum taught me to make a fire when I was super young. Then catch my own fish, gut it, and cook it on the fire. Grandpa and grandma taught me so much too – about the outdoors, cooking, life, values, doudji (Sámi handcraft) etc.
How did you end up in Pemberton, Canada?
I first moved to Whistler. But deep down I’m a true countryside girl, and that town is way too busy for me. So moving to Pemberton, which is a small farm town 30 minutes from Whistler, was the perfect option for me.
How’s your life in Canada different from life in Sweden?
Very different, but a bit the same. The options of outdoor activities for me to do here are endless. The mountains are so much bigger. The wilderness is huge. The weather is extreme. The snow is crazy deep here. But at the same time the winters are much shorter (down in the valley here in Pemberton). We have more sun and warmer temperatures. It’s also more lonely over here. I have all my family back home in Sweden, and my best friends are back home too. I miss them very much.
How would you describe your relationship to nature and how has that changed over the years?
I don't think it has changed. I was raised to love nature and to be outdoors all the time as a kid. We hiked, rode horses, skied, skated, snowmobiled, fished etc. I still do all that. Everyday! I have always loved being outside in nature. The further away from towns and people, the better.
What is Simply Sami and what inspired you to start Simply Sami?
Simply Sámi is the name of my craft business. Since 2015 I have dedicated my time to work with tin thread braiding and embroidery full-time, and I sell my pieces of jewelry online (www.simplysami.ca) as well as in boutiques here in BC.
I come from a family of crafty people on both sides. My mum plays music, draws, and sews. My grandfather Algot (on my mum’s side) has always worked with duodji – Sámi handcraft. My mum’s cousin Sixten Keisu is a master at making knives, guksi, and other ‘hard handcraft’ pieces, and he is a big inspiration and mentor of mine today. My grandfather Bertil on my dad’s side was a full-time artist too. Both grandpas had their studios/workshops, and I loved being in there as a child watching them work their art and learn from them. And I always loved watching my uncle’s wife on my mother’s side work with tin thread embroidery. As a kid, I couldn’t quite figure out how she made it look so beautiful! How could she make the braid float like that on top of the reindeer hide? A true mystery until I digged deeper into the craft, and began exploring this traditional way of making jewelry myself.
As I had always loved wearing the bracelets that my aunt made me, it was very special to be able to make them for myself. And later for family and friends. And now for customers all over the world. My grandfather and my elders have supported me so much to be brave and keep going along this path, and really helped me to make my passion and handcraft my living.
And lastly – How do you like the Minna Wool Fleece Vest?
This wool fleece vest in a stunning warm camel shade is so warm, comfortable and beautiful! If I was to explain my dream vest, it would be this exact one. It both keeps me warm and stylish, I truly love it! Thanks for creating functional outdoor clothing that empower us women!
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Anna! A true inspiration for us, and probably a bunch of other women out there curious about starting their life on a new path. If you enjoyed this piece – maybe Moa Rauds story is something you would like, too!