Ontarians of a certain vintage will have fond memories of Cullen Gardens Miniature Village in Whitby. The now-shuttered Village featured lovingly miniaturized versions of buildings and sights from around southern Ontario. The recreations could be specific – a scale replica of a well-known Whitby mansion, for example – or general, as in the various miniature farmsteads representing Ontario agriculture.
For the nostalgic among you (or for anyone intrigued by the idea), Toronto’s brand-new Little Canada attraction is here to fill that miniature village-sized hole in your heart. Like Cullen’s village, Little Canada is the passion project of a single man, in this case Dutch emigré Jean-Louis Brenninkmeijer, who set out to recreate his new home using a mix of technology both new (3D printing) and old (model railway).
Little Canada is a fantastic attraction, really a lot more impressive than the “railway hobbyist” vibe you might expect. Fully-realized recreations of familiar places are here, from Toronto’s Union Station to Québec’s Ice Hotel to a Niagara vineyard. For now, only Ontario and Québec are featured. But with a ten-year-plan to roll out the remaining provinces and territories, this novel little endeavour could be the next big thing at Dundas Square.
The first thing you see upon entering Little Canada is a spectacular recreation of Niagara Falls, replete with video-projected waterfalls, a teeny little Maid of the Mist roaming back and forth along a hidden magnetic track, and a sampling of familiar Niagara Falls sights and sounds. There’s the iconic Casino Tower, for example, along with a truncated version of the kitschy Clifton Hill, with its haunted houses, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and other amusements.
For obvious reasons, none of the Little Canada recreations are 1:1 accurate. (You won’t find your house, in other words.) Instead, the Little Canada team, like Cullen before them, pulled together elements that evoke a place, rather than fully recreate it. So while you’ll find a highly accurate recreation of the Horseshoe Falls at Little Niagara, for example, the nearby US-Canada border crossing – which is hilariously backed up, including one car with smoke billowing out of its hood – is meant to represent every horrible crossing ever.
Little Canada has been under development since 2011, when co-founder Brenninkmeijer quit his job and devoted himself full-time to developing a recreation of the country he’d come to call home. Partnering with model train hobbyist Dave MacLean, they brought together a team of artisans, engineers, and programmers to meticulously design what would become the initial sections of Little Canada.
As of the August 2021 launch, you can already visit Little Toronto, Little Ottawa, Little Niagara Falls, Little Golden Horseshoe, and Petit Québec. Each area has its charms, but there are obvious standouts. In Toronto, you’ll find a mind-blowing replica of the SkyDome, replete with retractable roof and a Jumobtron playing highlights from the “Unforgettable 7th Inning“. The only thing missing is a little Drake figure perched on the replica CN Tower next door.
Over in Little Ottawa, the Parliament building lights up with a “nightly” firework show. (Little Canada runs on a fifteen-minute day/night cycle.) But for my money, it’s the teeny little cyclists, pedalling their teeny little legs, that’s the single most lifelike thing here. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if, after hours, the cyclists dismount and go hang out with Buzz and Woody.
EVERYBODY ALWAYS ASKS WHERE’S WALDO. NOBODY EVER ASKS HOW’S WALDO?
While my +1 and I got a real kick out of spotting Little Canada‘s many references – the Bloor Viaduct over here, Hamilton’s industrial apocalypse over there – the sheer artistry on display cannot be overstated. One of my favourite sections is Petit Québec, with its beautifully imagined ski hills and lodges, even though I couldn’t peg it to any specific location from my own experience. There’s also a very neat “Littlization Station”: for $79, you can step into a Holodeck-like contraption where they’ll 3D scan and print you a teeny model, which you can insert anywhere on the Little Canada landscape. (The technology also allows for the printing of larger, take-home, Mini-Me models, if that’s your thing.)
Honestly, there is incredible attention to detail at Little Canada. Hundreds of easter eggs abound, like the red-and-white moose hidden in every scene, the Power Rangers paddling a canoe along the St. Lawrence, and the hotel where each member of the Little Canada team designed their own room. Room themes range from pop culture references to the underwater (look out for sharks!), to the poor little dude being sucked through a portal into space. We didn’t find Waldo, but I’m sure he’s in there.
I also love how the snake of cars along the Don Valley Parkway looks exactly like the route near my house. It’s especially impressive at night, when the car headlights activate. It’s definitely a place that rewards repeat visits.
DO A LITTLE SIGHTSEEING
Although Little Canada‘s opening was delayed (for the reasons you’d expect), it has, in an odd way, arrived at the right time. With interprovincial travel still limited, it’s kind of neat to “visit” Ottawa, Niagara, Québec, and the Golden Horseshoe all in one day. Not all parts of Ontario are here – we’re big fans of Huron County here at the Toronto Guardian, which unfortunately isn’t represented – but it’s enough of a slice to get you longing for another road trip.
It’s also proudly Canadian. We love our country, but not everyone can visit everything, even though we should! With Little North coming next year, and Little East and Little West Coasts on the way, Little Canada might just be the place to go, if you’re in the mood for a little sightseeing.
Visit the official website for Little Canada here.