A look inside Toronto’s new miniatures museum, featuring eerily lifelike replicas of iconic buildings
Growing up, Jean-Louis Brenninkmeijer had a model train set in his basement. He used to create tiny scenes filled with people, vehicles and houses. “I had this dream of taking it out of the basement and making it bigger,” he says. “I wanted people to see it.”
In 2011, he quit his job in renewable energy to build a coast-to-coast miniature replica of Canada. Inspired by Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany—the world’s largest model train exhibit, with detailed replicas of cities in Austria, Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland and the U.S.—Brenninkmeijer assembled a team of 15 artists, builders and tech people to recreate illustrious miniatures of Ottawa, the Golden Horseshoe, the Rockies, the Arctic and the GTA, with Toronto in full focus. The entire exhibit is interactive: motorized cars and trucks zoom down the 401, traffic lights change colours and the entire display is timed to transition from day to night every few minutes (in the Toronto skyline alone, there are 30,000 LED lights).
The multi-million-dollar exhibit, called Our Home and Miniature Land, is currently housed in a warehouse in Mississauga. When it opens in 2020, it will take up 50,000 square feet. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the installations:
Union Station is always bustling—even in miniature form. The platforms are crowded with the usual mess of commuters and while each figure is only about as large as a thumbnail, no two look the same. Camille Wodka, the communications coordinator and occasional miniatures builder, says diversity was important to make each scene look like Toronto. The figures are ordered online and then customized in-house with clothing and skin tones. On average, it takes 15 to 30 minutes to finish a single figure. Most of the buildings were made from 3-D printed plastic.
At any given time, there are eight to 10 trains running on the tracks behind Union Station. In addition to the trains, there are replicas of TTC streetcars, busses, emergency vehicles and service trucks weaving through the city’s streets.
St Lawrence Market
While planning construction for this installation, the team spent hours wandering through the St Lawrence Market to map out the vendor floor plan. The building’s roof was intentionally left open so guests can see the detailed recreations of Future Bakery, Buster’s Sea Cove and the colourful produce stalls. They even included the price signs.
The lights are set on a timer. When they dim to mimic the sunset, the roof of the Rogers Centre opens and sounds from a Jays game—the crack of the bat, the crowd’s cheers—echo out onto mini–Lake Shore Boulevard. For some of the other landmark buildings (like Mississauga’s Marilyn Monroe towers), the team was able to secure building blueprints. They were unable to do so for the Roger’s Centre, so they sought out help from a well-known model builder. In total, the stadium took roughly 2,500 hours to complete. As of now, there aren’t very many people in the bleachers, but once the exhibit opens, guests can have themselves 3-D printed and placed inside.
Toronto’s landmark building stands high above the rest of the exhibit. Just as in the real tower, the lights glow in shades of blue and purple. Around the top of the building, there’s a group of people in orange jumpsuits doing the EdgeWalk. The initial plan was to put Drake on top of the tower, but getting through to the Six God for permission hasn’t been easy.
This tiny version of the Distillery District is covered in festive decorations for the annual Christmas Market. The team plans to swap out the exhibit’s decor seasonally: during TIFF, they’ll to close off portions of King Street to stage a red carpet shoot, and there are similar plans for Pride and Caribana. In total, the Distillery District took 500 hours to complete over two and a half months.
Toronto has the highest number of construction cranes in North America. The team included a few construction sites to highlight the fact that, like the exhibit, the city is constantly growing and changing. They’re currently working on building a replica of Quebec City and Niagara Falls. After that, Brenninkmeijer says they’ll start working on the Maritime provinces.