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Little Canada Toronto at night CN Tower Absolute Towers

A snowman sunbathes on a lounger on the snow-covered roof of a house in Québec City. Stationary bicyclists furiously pedal on treadmills to power the Niagara River’s hydro-electric plant. A hotel room in Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier is decorated like an underwater scene with frogmen and dolphins on the bed. These are just a few of the tiny, whimsical details that visitors can discover in Little Canada, Toronto’s newest downtown attraction that replicates in miniature our country’s geographic regions and their iconic landmarks – but with a considerable dose of whimsy and humour thrown in, just for fun.

Little Canada Chateau Laurier Scuba Room Ottawa
Divers swim with sharks in this Chateau Laurier room ‘decorated’ by one of Little Canada’s Miniature Makers

“Honey I Shrunk the…Everything!”

The fascination with miniatures has been around for millennia. Ancient Egyptians placed tiny houses, tools and even figurines representing servants inside tombs to provide for the deceased in their afterlife. Fabergé created elaborately decorated jewellery for the Russian court, including ornate eggs that opened to reveal miniature objects inside. And a young Queen Mary was gifted a Victorian dollhouse so detailed in its contents that it included actual books written especially for its library by contemporary authors (including a new Sherlock Holmes story).

Queen Mary Dollhouse Royal Collection Trust
The library of Queen Mary’s dollhouse contained an original 503-word Sherlock Holmes story.
*Photo Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Perhaps even more impressive than these miniature objects themselves is the skill and attention to detail invested in them by the craftspeople who envision them. And no one is more invested (figuratively or literally) in Toronto’s modern-day Little Canada than its founder and visionary, Jean Louis Brenninkmeijer.

Taking a Hobby to a New Level

Jean Louis Brenninkmeijer

Little Canada began as the brainchild of Brenninkmeijer, a wealthy Dutch entrepreneur who moved to Canada more than a decade ago. Looking for a new passion project, and having enjoyed model trains as a young boy, Brenninkmeijer decided to combine his newfound love for Canada with his boyhood interest in model trains. And so the concept of Little Canada was born. You could say it was the ultimate hobbyist’s ultimate project.

Passion and Play at Work in Little Canada

It takes a special type of person to execute this larger-than-life, smaller-than-life project, and Brenninkmeijer began by contacting the president of the Model Railroad Club of Toronto, Dave MacLean, who became a partner in the Little Canada venture. Together Brenninkmeijer and MacLean curated a team of 50 Miniature Makers – scenic artists, animation specialists, architecture students and miniature enthusiasts who for 10 years poured not just their talents, but their hearts and souls into their work.

Little Canada Miniature Makers Wall
A wall at Little Canada showcases 7-inch tall team members, including Brenninkmeijer top right

It is the imagination and sense of play of these Makers that in turn make Little Canada a delight to explore. Each Maker has the freedom to inject some of their own sense of humour or whimsy into their creations, and there are all kinds of hidden vignettes and quirky details to discover in each of the landscapes and regions.

Little Canada Quebec City Winter
What exactly is going on inside this house in Petit-Champlain, Québec City?

It’s the Little Things…

Spencer Barclay, one of the model makers, built a replica of his own house in Niagara, but added in a backyard pool (because he always wanted one), including a flamingo floatie.

A closeup in Petit Québec reveals children sliding down the roof on a snow-covered house and launching themselves into the street on their wooden sleds.

Little Canada Quebec City Roof Sliding
Kids with sleds make tracks on this miniature Quebec City rooftop

Someone’s lost cat even made it onto a billboard, complete with a ‘Drama’ graffiti tag.

Little Canada Lost Cat Billboard

Look closely, and there is something unusual or fun, everywhere, whether it is a Santa who has lost his dogsled team, or ‘bean counter’ monsters working in the Revenue Canada headquarters in Ottawa.

Meet Little Canada’s Maurice the Moose

This same playfulness comes to life in a very Canadian way via “Maurice”, a to-scale moose painted like the Canadian flag, who likes to find obscure locations to hide within the Little Canada landscapes. (Actually, there are 4 ‘Maurices’ in each region and visitors of all ages are encouraged to join a scavenger hunt of sorts to locate them as they tour the displays.)

Little Canada Floral Clock Niagara Falls Ontario
Can you find Maurice the Moose near Niagara Falls’ Floral Clock? (which works, by the way!)

Miniatures on a Grand, Micro Scale

Little Canada Golden Horseshoe
Little Canada’s Golden Horseshoe

While Little Canada may not be the first attraction in the world to showcase miniatures of real life destinations, its scale may just be the smallest. Built to the 1:87 inch ratio used by model train hobbyists, Little Canada is much smaller than the 1:12 scale used in dollhouses, or the 1:25 scale used at other miniature attractions around the world. It is this miniscule scale that boggles the mind and makes the achievement of its Makers that much more impressive.

Little Canada Toronto with visitors

FUN FACT: The only structure represented even smaller than this 1:87 scale is Toronto’s CN Tower, since it needed to fit inside the exhibit hall – as it is, it still rises 14 feet from the floor!

Architectural Accuracy

Little Canada Parliament Hill
20,000 bricks were hand-painted to create the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa

The structures and landmarks represented in Little Canada are incredibly detailed and accurate and in many cases, the builders worked with actual blueprints and architectural drawings to realize some of those buildings and the effort shows. Ottawa’s Parliament Buildings took 3000 hours to build, including hand painting each of the 20,000 bricks; the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec is illuminated with individual lights on separate controls that took weeks just to ‘wire’; and on the ‘Marilyn Monroe’ buildings of Mississauga (officially known as the Absolute World twin towers) each floor of the condos was painted by hand before assembly.

Little Canada Quebec City winter at night
The Chateau Frontenac took weeks to wire with lights that turn on at different intervals
morning sunrise Hilton Quebec
The actual Chateau Frontenac in Québec City

Little Canada, Massive Budget

Little Canada came with a big cost for Brenninkmeijer, at around $24 million dollars to date, much of which he personally financed. First there are the physical costs of labour and materials including over 180,000 of man hours and 30,000 LED lights just for Toronto’s skyline. (The Rogers Centre alone cost the equivalent of an actual Tesla to complete!)

Little Canada Toronto Rogers Centre SkyDome
The Rogers Centre cost the equivalent of a Tesla to build!

Then there are the rights that had to be negotiated for everything from video footage of former Blue Jay Joe Carter’s iconic World Series moment that plays on the Rogers Centre Jumbotron, to the Canadian Tire logos on the train cars that move through the displays. And it just wouldn’t be Little Canada without including the original Tim Hortons location, so that meant getting those rights, too (let’s hope they weren’t double-double the estimate).

As Inclusive and Diverse as ‘Big’ Canada

Little Canada Clifton Hill Niagara Falls Ontario
Niagara Falls’ Clifton Hill. What’s happening with the bowling pin bottom right….

Brenninkmeijer’s Little Canada will eventually showcase regions and landmarks from across the entire country. Currently, the 5 geographic regions that are completed include Little Toronto, Little Niagara, Little Ottawa, Little Golden Horseshoe (including Niagara-on-the-Lake, Brantford, Stratford and more), and Petit Québec.

Little Canada Prince of Wales Hotel Niagara on the Lake
Little Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Prince of Wales Hotel

There are plans underway to build a Little East Coast, Prairies, Rockies, West Coast, Montreal and North to truly represent Canada from coast to coast to coast.

Little Canada Little East Coast tilt shift photo
Plans are in the works for a Little East Coast. Seen in this tilt/shift promo photo of St. John’s, NFLD

There is also an emphasis on making Little Canada as inclusive as possible when it comes to representing its people. There are Indigenous landmarks within the regions already, and there are plans to build a Residential School to reflect the not-so-positive aspects of our history that have come to light recently. There will even be a tribute in miniature, placing pairs of children’s shoes on Parliament Hill, just as was done in real life following the discovery of the first 215 unmarked graves of indigenous children who died while attending the Kamloops School.

Multiculturalism is a part of Little Canada, of course, and great pains were taken to adapt mini-figurines to reflect that, too. Maggie Koczur, a former makeup artist, uses her skills to hand paint ‘stock’ caucasian figures with different skin tones and cultural attire that are more reflective of Canada’s population. And when she isn’t doing that, Maggie is painting Raptors jerseys onto some of the 3000 spectators she individually glues into the stands of the Scotiabank arena!

Littlization! You Can Be Part of Little Canada, too – Literally

Littlization 3-D scanning Little Canada
Actual Jane getting scanned to be ‘Littlized’ at Little Canada

Perhaps one of the most exciting opportunities for visitors who come to Little Canada is the chance to become a part of it – quite literally. Using state-of-the-art 3-D scanning technology, guests can be scanned, re-created in miniature and their 3/4 inch-high figure placed in one of Little Canada’s regions. These aren’t just generic figures from some catalogue – these are individual mini portraits, right down to facial expressions and clothing. (I mean, how cool is that!)

FUN FACT: There are currently about 10,000 ‘residents’ in Little Canada, including Brenninkmeijer’s son’s hockey team who were all scanned and can now be seen skating around the Wayne Gretzy arena in Little Brantford.

Little Canada – Our Home and Miniature Land

The lights in the Little Ottawa exhibit hall dim as ‘twilight’ falls over Parliament Hill, and the Peace Tower rings to signal the start of a miniature Canada Day celebration. As the light and sound show projects iconic images of Canada onto the facade of Centre Block, visitors gather in the hall to watch the show, fascinated by just how real everything looks.

And just as the finale of O Canada play out, fireworks exploding in time to the last notes of the National Anthem, the visitors in Little Canada spontaneously clap and cheer, as real an expression of pride as it gets. Whether it is their appreciation of the artistry of Little Canada, or the ‘big’ version of this country, Jean Louis Brenninkmeijer should be very proud of the joy that his vision for Our Home and Miniature Land brings its visitors.

Little Canada certainly put a big smile on our faces.

TIP: Little Canada is located right at Dundas Square in Toronto. Admission fees, hours and pricing for “Littlization” figurines can all be found on Little Canada’s website.

Little Canada Dundas Square location

Special thanks to Little Canada for hosting Henk and I on our visit, and to Maya for her informative and personable tour!

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