In the basement Downtown Toronto is nationwide. The new Little Canada Miniature Museum depicts Canadian cities, small towns, mountains and waterfalls. All of this lives on with the magic of sound, animation and mechatronics. In one scene, the Maid of the Mist shines the 16-foot Niagara River in rainbow shades of pink, yellow, and blue. In another example, a small skier descends from the surrealistic Old Quebec overlooking the elaborate rendering of Quebec’s Old Quebec. This is a patriotic and passionate project, costing $ 24 million from 218 investors and nearly 10 years to be created by dozens of craftsmen. And it’s one of the coolest things you’ve ever seen.
Little Canada is intended to be educational, but verisimilitude is not its main goal. The exhibits (Little Canada calls them destinations) are designed to remind you of the real thing, not the carbon copy. For example, buildings in the area may be slightly shuffled to fit the display. The whole place is dominated by powerful fun and whimsical sensations, often full of fantasy. In Petit Quebec, winding sea creatures emerge from construction sites. A cross section of the Chateau Lorier shows a room depicting a novel or television scene. James and Giant Peach, Schitt’s Creek Creepy dummies from the motel room Goose bumpTo give a few examples.
The destination operates in a 15-minute day-to-night cycle represented by dramatic changes in light, which staff call “miniature time.” Cars, fire trucks and boats glide on railroad tracks powered by hidden magnets. Every 15 minutes, Canadian Day Fireworks The show illuminates the mini-parliament. In some scenes, the doll moves. A small skier shimmy down the Bunny Hill in Mont Sainteen.
The idea for the place came from a powerful hit of childhood nostalgia, so it’s worthy that Little Canada is so capricious. One day in early 2011, the attraction’s founder, Jean-Louis Brenninkmeijer, was digging a box of childhood things in the basement of his home in Oakville. Brenninkmeijer, who moved from Brussels to Oakville in 1999, recently quit his long career in his family’s business and took him from retail to renewable energy to finance.
And that family business? It belongs to one of the wealthiest families in Europe. Brenninkmeijers is a Dutch, German and Swiss dynasty with considerable heritage and billions of net worth. The family’s centuries-old business interests include an international chain of clothing stores, a private equity fund, two banks, and a real estate fund. But Jean-Louis wanted to do something different from his time. “I don’t like sitting behind a computer all day, looking at numbers and writing reports,” he says. “I thought it was very boring.”
The box was collecting dust For almost 10 years before his wife finally proposed that he go through them. “They were full of model railroads when I was a kid, and some of them were handed over to me by my dad,” he says. “The excitement suddenly came back. Every time I opened the box and unwrapped the locomotives and railroad tracks, I thought,” Oh, I forgot this! ” I remember finding a particular train. It’s a green three-piece locomotive called the Swiss Crocodile that I associate with my dad. I called him right away, and he laughed a lot at the fact that I just unpacked it. “
Brenninkmeijer began to explore the idea of creating a model railroad layout at home. He ordered two tables, laid down some trucks, and set out on his job to rekindle his long-hidden boyhood passion, like an old box. In 2011, he visited a museum in Hamburg called Miniatur Wunderland. This museum is an elaborate reproduction of European pockets. The visit, coupled with his newly revived model railroad hobby, sparked a fantasy about making something similar in Canada. “Initially, It’s ridiculous. I don’t have the skills to do that,“He says. “But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
Temporarily, Brenninkmeijer contacted several local model railroad clubs to see if anyone wanted to board. Dave McLean, a civil engineer and chairman of the Toronto Model Railroad Club, responded immediately. It took one lunch for the two to become partners in the project. In their early conversations, the idea evolved from a model railroad exhibit to a miniature world of Canada’s coast-to-coast, with trains incorporated into parts of the building.
For Brenninkmeijer The idea came from his love for Canada. He initially moved to Oakville temporarily for his job, but he liked it so much that he decided to stay. “I fell in love with the country right away,” he says. “For me, it was the seasons, the friendly people, and the diversity of the terrain. Mountains and deserts, lakes and forests, everything.”
In 2013, Brenninkmeijer and MacLean signed a lease of 5,000 square feet of warehouse space in Mississauga, Ontario. With a team of 10 manufacturers, including model railroad club enthusiasts, the pair created models for their first two destinations, Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe. They covered it themselves with investments from friends and family. After securing further investment between 2014 and 2018, the team expanded to 30 manufacturers and developed three destinations: Niagara, Ottawa and Quebec.
Brenninkmeijer and MacLean scouted dozens of locations before finally signing a lease at 10 Dundas, a 45,000-square-foot space smack dub in downtown Toronto in August 2019. Construction, but the pandemic delayed their plans for a year. “The first day itself was very disappointing,” admits Brenninkmeijer. “I didn’t have as many visitors as I expected. But the next weekend was great and I grew up from there.”
In the next 3 years Little Canada will announce the East Coast, Prairie, and North. We hope to open the Rocky Mountains, the West Coast and Montreal by 2028. Little North was supposed to be under construction when it opened, but was postponed until 2025 to find the right craftsman for the job. “We hope it will be designed and built by an indigenous team,” says Brenninkmeijer.
Today, the team consists of 50 builders, including hobby dollhouse makers, visual artists, industrial designers, electricians, and mechatronics experts. A single destination can take 40-600 hours to complete, depending on its size and complexity. Most of the details, or most of the work, extend to what the craftsmen call “A level,” a very noticeable stretch from the edge of the piece to two feet behind. In the early days of Little Canada, manufacturers relied primarily on “kitbashing.” This is a creative diversion and customization of an existing model kit fragment. Today, much of the work is done from scratch, using customized 3D printed materials and intricately designed electrical work that brings everything to life.
Most days you can find Brenning Kmeiger wandering through the Halls of Little Canada and bathing in his new life in a world away from the paper-pushing career he once feared. “I’m a person. I like to be on the floor, walk around and talk to guests,” he says. “Every 15 minutes there is a Canadian Day celebration at the Capitol Little Ottawa. We have seen people weep and applaud as a group. Last weekend we stood on the railing. Had a group of young children singing together O Canada.. There was a goose bump. “
$ 24 Million Miniature Canada Inside
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