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The lost world of miniature villages around Toronto

Posted by Staff / June 29, 2012

Cullen GardensThe allure of miniature villages has receded in modern times, perhaps because young people can now build, play and live in virtual worlds that dwarf even the most complex model builder's vision. Children of the '80s, however, were spoiled with them, and they left an indelible impression (possibly fostered by the intro to CBC's beloved The Friendly Giant?).

Tivoli Miniature World, (slogan: "Have big fun at miniature world"), was located in Jordan, Ontario, right next to Wet'N'Wild at Prudhomme's Landing. The CN Tower, Mount Rushmore, the Roman Coliseum, London Bridge and The White House were just a few of the 75 miniature reproductions built out of fiberglass on a 1/50 scale of famous international sites.

Tivoli Miniature VillageTivoli inherited some pieces from Canadia, another miniature park from the 1960s that focused solely on Canadian structures. Due to dwindling attendance in the late 1980s, Tivoli moved its location closer to Niagara Falls near Ferry Street, but by the early 1990s it was closed.

Cullen GardensMeanwhile in Whitby, everyone who has visited will always remember the majesty of Cullen Gardens, with its colourful floral displays, bird sanctuaries, luscious gardens and most memorably, a southern Ontario-themed miniature village.

Opened in May 1980, Cullen Gardens & Miniature Village was a love labour of Len Cullen, father of horticulturalist boffin Mark Cullen. It was a major tourist attraction for Durham Region, offering the perfect summer day trip destination for bored kids and school trips, as well as a picturesque backdrop for weddings, and even the setting for a particularly exciting episode of The Littlest Hobo.

During the winter season, Cullen Gardens offered up the Festival of Lights, sleigh rides and much Christmas merriment. YTV famously chose Cullen Garden's Miniature Village as the locale to kick off 1993, sending PJ's Phil and Aashna there to fill out time between shows.

Sadly, Cullen Gardens closed in the mid-2000s, and it seems many pieces of the miniature village are either in a warehouse rotting away, or up for sale. If you can withstand a heady dose of sadness (and motion sickness), here is a video detailing what's left of Cullen Gardens from a few years back.

Tivoli Miniature VillageTivoli and Cullen Gardens allowed us to be Gullivers in our own land of Lilliputians, and it stings to think there is nothing like them around for the restless kids of summer 2012 to marvel at.

Retrontario plumbs the seedy depths of Toronto flea markets, flooded basements, thrift shops and garage sales, mining old VHS and Betamax tapes that less than often contain incredible moments of history that were accidentally recorded but somehow survived the ravages of time. You can find more amazing discoveries at www.retrontario.com.

Discussion

25 Comments

Michelle / June 29, 2012 at 02:46 pm
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Great post. I loved both of these places.
Cyril Sneer / June 29, 2012 at 03:21 pm
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Best part of article: PJ Phil!!
Aeudet / June 29, 2012 at 03:56 pm
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It's PJ PHIL!!!!! WHAAAAA???? AGGGHHHHHH!!!!!
Nikki / June 29, 2012 at 04:01 pm
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Aww, I remember going to these places as a kid. Didn't even realize they were gone and now I'm feeling nostalgic.
McRib / June 29, 2012 at 04:37 pm
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i never went to either of these places so no nostalgia on that front, but PJ Phil!!
W. K. Lis / June 29, 2012 at 06:46 pm
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Towns of appropriate size for Rob Ford.
Em / June 29, 2012 at 07:56 pm
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Cullen Gardens property now belongs to the Town of Whitby, went there recently and it is seriously the saddest thing ever. I remember the fun of visiting there when I was a kid and it's quite depressing to see it now.
andrewmichael / June 30, 2012 at 03:32 pm
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I HEART PJ PHIL!
I wish I got a chance to see these parks. Shame about the Cullen Gardens being rotted away.
Fox Specialty Services / July 22, 2012 at 05:17 pm
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These are great photos. I honestly cannot wait to visit this joint.

Photos of Miniature Gardens
http://site.foxspecialtyservices.com/blogs/miniature-garden-projects/

Lots of Useful Links About Miniature Gardening - Tips, How-to and Inspiration
http://www.foxspecialtyservices.com/most-up-to-date-fairy-garden-news-and-trends.html
Heather / August 16, 2012 at 03:30 pm
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I loved Cullen Gardens and grew up visiting it with my family. As a Whitby Resident, it such a shame that the City ever took control over this property because that is the reason it has been vacant for over 12 years! Now, a Spa is set to be built there (although they have had the property for two years and have done nothing to it) and other land around the building is being turned into an off leash dog park! What a shame that other kids/families won't enjoy this beautiful landmark like we did...well of course unless you're planning a mani/pedi!
Bruce / September 17, 2012 at 07:46 pm
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Read an article online saying that the sale does not actually close until 2013, March I think it said, so nothing can be done until then. I do hope that they keep much of the area open for public use after a private company (spa) takes over. Went there today, the gardens where the train and village was is totally grown in with weeds, the remnants of the sitting areas and the mini-put is still there. The town is managing a few garden areas and the paths through the wooded areas are still actively used and beaten down by foot traffic, so good to see that people are still using the area. There were three cars in the parking lot when I went there today. Many of the buildings now have boarded windows, probably due to vandalism. Shame to lose it, but times have changed and as web site that led me here said, children of today can create their own virtual villages and see any building or country online. It is a shame. I was also looking at the same site where they talked about Tivoli miniature village which is now gone and was in the Niagara area.
Catherine / September 21, 2012 at 02:57 pm
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It is my understanding that the Niagara Parks Commission will be reassembling much of Cullen's Gardens in the Niagara Botanical Gardens 2013!
Cullen's Gardens nurtured imagination and wonder and I can't wait to see it in its new home. If only one could visit with the eyes of a 7 year old so many years later.
Peter Zimmermann / October 8, 2012 at 09:56 am
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It's great that there is now attention being paid to the defunct model parks of Ontario. Of all the model parks "Canadia" was the best. Sadly they were not an economic success in their day and very little evidence of any sort, not to mention memories, exists today. They started building their 1:24 scale models in Toronto around 1964 and opened in Niagara Falls in 1967 with the closing being around 1972. My father worked at the model factory in Etobicoke on Jeavens Rd. and I currently own original brochures, stationery and one of the CN Boxcars, not to mention all of my father's b&w photographs. If you are a historian wishing more information for research purposes let me know.
Dan Aniszewski replying to a comment from Peter Zimmermann / March 2, 2013 at 11:17 pm
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Peter, I would love to see more Canadia pics. I had some of my pics posted (as you did) on the APHAN.CA website. I visited in 1968 with my parents (I was 4), but I still (although vaguely)remember being there. It had a great influence on me...I have building static models (mostly automobiles) for 30+ years. P.S. I was especially fond of the trains, it's great that your Father had so much to do with it, and you were there to help.
Dan
Peter Zimmermann / March 3, 2013 at 11:16 am
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Dan,

You sure know how to butter someone up, trains have been a serious interest of mine as long as I can remember. Having a father who was a professional model maker ("pattern maker" actually) was surely a big influence. I did of course visit Canadia many times between 1967 and 1970 and did also spend entire days at the model shop in Toronto in the years leading up to the opening of the park (1964-1966). I was particularly fascinated by the extra large size custom made vacuum-forming machine which may have been around 4' x 8' in size.

I would love to be able to provide more pictures but it will be at least a couple of months before I can deliver. I have just made a major move into a new home and most things are still in boxes. I do not wish to post my e-mail address here but if you like you can contact me personally via eBay. My eBay ID is tie1on2. If that does not work for you then I can always contact Ken at APHAN and give him permission to give my e-mail address to you.

Peter

P.S. My father's last carrier change in the mid 1970s up to 1986 when he retired was as chief technician in the department of vertibrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum. In short, he supervised the staff and all technical aspects of errecting the dinosuar exhibits. Now that has to be the ultimate in model building.

.
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Darren / June 21, 2013 at 02:44 pm
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This was great, however, the link to CANADIA is no longer working, and I have only seen a very few photos of that place. I always wanted to see what it looked like in operation. I grew up a few short blocks from the Canadia property, and as a very young boy, I remember walking through it's rubble and disarray. Any other pictures of Canadia would be greatly appreciated!
Catherine replying to a comment from Peter Zimmermann / July 2, 2013 at 04:30 pm
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Hi Peter - I came across this thread while searching for someone who makes miniature scenes. I need to hire someone to construct a miniature winter/ Christmas scene. Just a one-time thing, but it needs to fill an approximate 8 foot diamter circle (for size). Do you know of anyone who may be interested, who can do a bang-on job of it? It can't look amateur in any way... Thanks!!
Peter Zimmermann / July 4, 2013 at 10:46 am
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Hello Darren,

Sorry to hear that the Canadia site is out-of-action. I personally am not available at this time to scan and post any pictures - sorry, keep searching the web.

All the Best,
Peter


Hello Catherine,

While I do know of a few people who have the skill to do what you have outlined I highly doubt that they would be interested in taking on any commercial jobs. My associations are all with people who are otherwise employed and only do the modeling for their personal satisfaction.

There are a number of companies in Toronto that specialize in the making of industrial models for construction proposals of government buildings and shopping malls, etc. Perhaps one of those companies can take on the job. I suspect however, based on the large size of what you wish, that the cost might be prohibitive, especially if a high level of lifelike detail is necessary.

I don't recall what I posted in the blog that lead you to me or why you felt that I would be a good person to ask but thank you for the thought.

Best Regards,
Peter Zimmermann
Chris NL / July 9, 2013 at 02:53 pm
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I am planning a trip to Niagra and was very much looking forward to these places. I am so sad they are not there to show my daughter! Does anyone know if they did put some of the buildings in the botanical garden?
Thanks,
Chris NL
Ken Holden / July 10, 2013 at 09:06 am
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Thanks for the photos! I've seen all of the different miniatures listed here.

Catherine - message me on Facebook through my page: www.facebook.com/HoldenArts or email me. I have experience in scale modelling and theatre production. I can have a look at what you need.
Skidmarks McGee / November 1, 2013 at 12:51 am
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I grew up on the West coast, so These places mean little (get it?) to me, but they look cool.
On the other hand, Aashna!!!!!!
JC / April 14, 2014 at 09:42 pm
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I remember being a teenager and hoping the fence into Cullen Gardens at night and getting drunk in the miniature village on a blend of every type of booze I could find in my parents house.

Those were the days.
MTDL / April 14, 2014 at 10:45 pm
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Oh man! i totally forgot this was a thing but i remember seeing these in photos and old videos of when i was still a young child
Nyx / April 15, 2014 at 02:34 am
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The funny thing my in-laws while in Colorado springs took my mate n I to Magic Town a miniature replica if old Colorado (I believe) brought back memories of miniature village n everything.
AK / April 15, 2014 at 09:06 pm
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PJ Aashna and Phil! Phil was fly, and I had the biggest crush on Aashna as a kid. After watching the video, I still do

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