Niagara Falls, CN Tower and ski mountains: In Miniature Land in Toronto, the country is being shrunk – and the guests too, if necessary.
When night falls in Toronto, the city looks even more beautiful. Not a trace of peace, on the wide streets around the main train station Union Station the headlights of the cars are flashing, skyscrapers shine brightly and the background noise of rattling trains, the whoosh and honking of the queues of cars is as realistic as the tiny details of the streetscape, right down to the manhole covers, Neon sign and air vents. And above all, the CN Tower towers unmistakably, now at the latest it is clear that we are in Toronto.
The night lasts exactly six minutes, then the light goes on again. In Little Canada, not only has the country shrunk to a scale of 1:87, the day is over in just nine minutes. Time enough for the excursion boat to depart one room further to Niagara Falls. It’s worth it for guests who don’t have time for this must-do on a short trip to Toronto. Here you can at least get a small picture of the attractions where you get as close as possible to the water, including the incessant roar of the river and the screeching of seagulls.
But even if the scenery looks pretty real thanks to technically complex animation – the fascination of the miniature country, which opened a year ago in downtown Toronto, lies less in the tourist overview of what Ahornland has to offer in terms of famous buildings and landscapes than in the almost insane love of detail – and in the vision of its creator, who put more than ten years of his life and several million dollars into the realization of his dream. Jean-Louis Brenninkmeijer, a scion of the C&A dynasty, born in the Netherlands and raised in London, worked in the family business for many years until the job that led him to Canada eventually seemed too boring.
At 50, so the story goes, the father of four, who settled west of Toronto in Oakville, recalls his childhood passion for model trains, which he packed in boxes and moved to Canada. And when he was so infected a year later that he was driven to the Miniature Wonderland in Hamburg, which is considered the largest model railway system in the world, the man, fascinated by the small things, began to think big: the idea of building something like this in Canada couldn’t let him go. He’s looking for comrades, after all he’s not the only man who loves model railroading, and he finds Dave MacLean, civil engineer and president of the Model Railroad Club of Toronto.
Everyone quickly agrees that the focus should not be on the trains but on the country with its famous buildings and landscapes. Movement is still provided. In addition to trains, ships rock, cyclists are on the move and around 300 cars make their rounds autonomously, which have to stop behind the scenes at regular intervals to be charged. In the control center, a high wall full of monitors, employees constantly monitor the traffic. Because just like in real life, traffic jams occur from time to time, locomotives derail or boats get out of control. Then the giants intervene with poles and tools before the eyes of the audience and put the small world back in order. Watching such rescue maneuvers is also fun.
Brenninkmeijer is said to have spent ten hours in the miniature world in Hamburg. Today the elegant and correct-looking man, whose playful passion one would not expect, can be found almost every day in his own exhibition, likes to talk to guests and tirelessly gives explanations away.
Anyone who wants to discover all the details – such as the scenes from novels and films in the luxury hotel Chateau Laurier in Little Ottawa or the little man in leather trousers who tirelessly swings his hammer to tap the beer keg for the Oktoberfest, which, together with the beer carriage, mini dirndls and brass bands, is also in the Toronto area not to be missed – can also spend a lot of time in Little Canada.
Although the exhibition currently only includes five destinations. Six more are to follow in the coming years, until the entire 45,000 square meter display area is populated: Prairies, the Rockies, the Coasts, Montreal and Little North. In the still bare room there are already polar bears, a few white mountains and many notes in the showcases. It’s cold there too. After all, the experience should appeal to as many senses as possible.
Around 50 professionals work on Little Canada’s growth, including amateur dollhouse builders, architects, electricians, mechatronics engineers and artists. While the existing model kits were initially modified and adapted, most objects are now created using 3D printers. 200,000 working hours are said to have been incurred for the construction so far. The investments are estimated at 24 million dollars, around 200 donors took part. More than 10,000 mini-trees green the landscapes, the production of gnarled branches and the structure of the six millimeter high lawn from tiny fibers is a science in itself. Tens of thousands of little people populate the country. They are shown in all walks of life, including in a wheelchair, and in all skin colors to reflect the cultural diversity of the Canadian population.
And it also grows in Little Canada. As a special gag, guests can immortalize themselves in the small world. This is called “Littlization” and whoever enters the futuristic 3D capsule for this purpose and lets himself be scanned by 128 cameras with whirring noises, feels a bit like in the spaceship Enterprise, only that the beaming into the small world takes about two weeks takes at least 60 dollars. From the photos of the poses that are created in the cabin, a small plaster human is made in 3D printing, supposedly a clearly recognizable image, which can then move into Little Canada.
Perhaps even near the Houses of Parliament in Little Ottawa, with its 20,000 painted bricks one of the jewels of the show, above which Canada Day is celebrated with animated fireworks every 15 minutes. It happens that people spontaneously clap, are moved or even sing the national anthem. The boss also likes such emotional outbursts. Parliament Hill is one of the favorite haunts of Jean-Louis Brenninkmeijer, who has since acquired Canadian citizenship.
Disclaimer: Research supported by Destination Toronto.