Over the past few months, we’ve enjoyed several afternoons with Lianne Harris, storyteller extraordinaire, as she shares her extensive historical research and knowledge in entertaining and educational zoom presentations.
We’ve walked through history learning about some little known Christmas traditions, discovered the surprising links between Greek mythology and today’s world and empathized with the story of the Last Emperor of China. Next up, this month is a fascinating look at Persia and the arrival of the Persian New Year or Nowruz.
We thought members might like to learn a bit more about Lianne and how she developed her distinctive presentations.
As Lianne points out, everyone is interested in some aspect of history. Growing up with a history teacher father and a mother very interested in family genealogy helped her naturally develop an interest and appreciation for how the past and present intertwine.
In addition, her upbringing was unusual as both her mother, a nurse, and her father, as a teacher/principal were deeply involved with medical and educational needs and later, microloans, to leper colonies in India, through a charity called Rising Star. Rising Star has been able to grow from a community of sub-standard, open sewage squalour to a highly functioning community and school, with plans to take the same model to other leper colonies in India. The family also volunteered to distribute bed kits to children in Bangladesh as part of the Canadian charity, Sleeping Children Around the World (SCAW). Lianne is still involved with the charities along with her parents and family. Her 2 sons have volunteered with Rising Star and Sleeping Children around the World (her third son’s humanitarian plans got a little derailed with Covid). When Covid stabilizes, she envisions a future returning to help, assisting in the needs of those with leprosy, educating the children of those leprosy-affected (who do not typically carry the disease), and breaking down social stigma in the surrounding villages and communities.
In Toronto, she began her career as an educational consultant with the Toronto Board of Education working with history and social studies departments to find ways to make history more appealing and interesting to students. Capturing kids attention and making sure they’re focused and absorbing the lessons she was teaching led her to gradually acquire props and costumes to intrigue students and enhance the history lesson.
About 6 years ago, a marketing manager of a corporation reached out and asked if she’d consider presenting to adults as part of their community relations. A whole new career was launched as she discovered adults enjoyed history lessons presented in an entertaining way as much as the kids. And when the pandemic arrived, Lianne adapted again to the online Zoom format, providing presentations to groups both locally and across the country.
Lianne does extensive research on each and every presentation and co-ordinates every story with period costume and props to add authenticity and interest to her story. Her wardrobe of costumes has grown so large that she now has a separate small storage unit on her property just to house the collection of dresses, wigs, shoes and props. Many of the costumes she purchased but she’s also made some herself and sometimes uses the expertise and talents of costume makers to assist.
In her “spare” time Lianne is an artist exhibiting at the Royal Ontario Museum, Roy Thomson Hall, The IDA Gallery and the Shaw Festival. She has also authored several books including two medieval novels and a non-fiction book about Bangladesh.
And as if her plate wasn’t full enough, she has also taken the time to become a community Disaster Relief Specialist, focusing on heat and sanitation in disaster zones. In this capacity she has taught workshops and provided assistance in times of urban crises.
We are delighted that we’ve been able to connect with Lianne and know our members really enjoy each presentation and look forward to many more monthly sessions as she brings history to life!