TORONTO — It’s amazing what a childhood memory can blossom into in adulthood.
For Jean-Louis Brenninkmeijer, the sheer joy he felt as a child playing with train sets with his father is what sparked the idea of ‘Little Canada’ years later. Having immigrated to Canada in 1999 from the Netherlands, Brenninkmeijer dreamt of combining the nostalgia of his childhood with the beauty and wonder of his adopted homeland. What he came up with, of course, was a miniature land that spans over 45,000 square feet and depicts Canada’s most iconic destinations.
Opened in Toronto in August 2021, Little Canada has very quickly made a name for itself amid Toronto’s cultural landscape. Named ‘Top Attraction of the Year’ in Attractions Ontario’s seventh annual Ontario’s Choice Awards last year, it currently has six ‘Little’ exhibits on display: Little Niagara; Little Toronto; Little Golden Horseshoe; Little Ottawa; Petit Québec; and the newly opened Little East Coast, which showcases historical and cultural landmarks in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. With the latest exhibit, which took a year in the making and occupies 720 square feet of space, visitors will marvel over miniature-sized replicas of the Bay of Fundy, Gros Morne National Park, Peggy’s Cove, Metepenagiag Heritage Park, and Cape Breton Island, complete with motorists driving the famous Cabot Trail.
“Although visitors will be amazed by the miniature recreations of so many familiar Atlantic Canadian features, we expect they will be astonished by the tiny cultural scenes and stories of everyday life that fill Little East Coast,” says Brenninkmeijer , who in addition to being Little Canada’s Founder, also serves as Chief Visionary Officer. “Building Little East Coast was a daunting task but we are extremely proud of the results and we’re excited it brings us closer to fulfilling our dream of capturing all of Canada in miniature.”
With Little East Coast now complete, Little Canada is now embarking on a seven-year expansion plan, with additional exhibits in the pipeline. These include Little West Coast, Little North, Little Prairies and other iconic destinations, both domestic and beyond Canada’s borders. And with a new President and CEO at the helm, none other than Brad Ford, a Canadian travel industry veteran, Little Canada is on pace for very ‘big’ things ahead.
“We are relaunching Little Canada with a new vigour now in 2023, and reimagining our structure and strategic growth plan to accommodate the scaling post-pandemic popular demand,” Ford tells Travelweek. “Canadians need more Canada, and we are a friendly, warm-hearted, entertaining reminder that, as a country, we have so much to be proud of and share.”
Having previously served as President of Insight Vacations prior to joining Little Canada, the fact that he once offered trips across Canada and is now showcasing those same destinations all in one location, is not lost on him.
“As much as there are recognizable differences, there is the easy similarity in offering an engaging, fun, transformative and affirming journey across Canada. We endeavour to this in just a couple of hours. No different from being in the travel supplier space, we focus first on the customer, their enjoyment and their experience,” he says.
Though kids are certainly a primary audience of Little Canada’s, Ford says a good portion of guests are also seniors, teens and adults of every age, a wide demographic that reflects Canada’s signature diversity. And as a microcosm of Canada’s best and brightest, it was also important for Little Canada to capture not only the essence of the country’s landscapes, but also the uniqueness and personality of its people.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously, just like any self-respecting Canadian. We like to have fun and we are infinitely curious, but we look for deeper meaning in what being a Canadian represents to us here and to others in the world, and our guests often tell us they have been moved to laughter or even tears by the connections made,” says Ford.
To help keep Little Canada top of mind among the trade, Ford is more than happy to work with travel agents, many of whom he forged strong relationships while working on the supplier side of the industry.
“We absolutely work with travel agents, and with absolute pleasure,” he says. “We are thrilled to work with our travel advisor colleagues, hotel concierges and tour operator partners to promote Little Canada to their guests and network. We have a brilliant team that will arrange personalized visits and group guided tours, and we host fantastic team meetings and events.”
Ford is certain that travel agents and their clients will fall in love with Little Canada, just as he did on his first visit. When asked what he loves most about the attraction, he says it’s not so much about any one particular exhibit, but what you take away from the overall experience.
“There are hero crescendo moments that are designed to wow and impress across our destinations, and it’s great fun to watch guests of every age marvel at the theatrical moments,” he says. “Perhaps the best part of Little Canada is how people tell us they learned something they didn’t know about our country and how much our stories connect. We are a strong, proud and caring people at heart, and we often see a quiet, powerful, personal moment where a guest is noticeably touched. And that moves us too.”
Little Canada is located at 10 Dundas East, Toronto, across from Yonge-Dundas Square and The Eaton Centre, and is open daily. Admission fees are $32 for adults, $28 for students, $28 for seniors (65+), and $22 for children (ages 4-12). Children three and under are free. Annual passports for individuals and families are also available.
For more information go to https://little-canada.ca/.