Cullen Gardens whitby

Ontario's Forgotten Landmarks: A Village Unraveled

I recently took a drive out to Whitby to visit the site of many of my childhood's fondest memories - Cullen Gardens and Miniature Village. I had heard that much of it had gone into disrepair since its closing in early 2006, but was amazed to find that the most heartbreaking elements were those left behind.

After serving the community for over 25 years, the owner, a man now into his eighties, finally had to give up his legacy. Although portions have been kept as a municipal park, much of the property's 36 acres is overgrown, and stripped of its joyous former life.

For those of you not familiar with this place's former glory, it was a quaint property comprised of a series of prominent buildings offering a unique inside look into the life of ages past. However, the main focal point for me as a child, was the maze of hedges and walking paths flanked by miniature town scenes (I would guess around 1:12 scale, for the most part) just behind the aforementioned buildings. Several fair-sized model trains also graced the beautiful gardens, weaving through the paths and bridges just out of reach of little hands.

Upon revisiting the site in its current state of abandoned disarray, it occurred to me that my own affection for addiction to scale models must have begun here.

The main buildings themselves have been kept in fairly decent shape, but the adjacent row of quaint

Cullen Gardens whitby

Victorian homes


originally used by the facility in its heyday have been boarded and sealed. That being said, they are still quite beautiful, hiding behind a picturesque row of trees, the pristine grass most likely owing to the fact the the small golf course out back is still in use...

(The latter buildings mentioned above have all been snapped here using infrared, just to avoid any aesthetic confusion.)

CullenCullen Gardens whitbyminiature village whitby

miniature village whitby

Here you can see the overgrown walking paths and empty sidings - once the proud home to any scale modeler's dream...

miniature village whitby

miniature village whitby

miniature village whitby

Seeing the train tracks in their current state of desolation was particularly painful...

miniature village whitby

From a distance, I could not quite make out the scene below, but upon closer inspection, a disheveled and unkempt dinosaur-shaped bush (mostly metal training-wire at this point) revealed itself.

The partially active portions of the property were worth the visit by themselves, allowing me to test out some new infrared gear; the small golf course mentioned earlier is home to a beautiful little pond and marsh...

At the other edge of the property is a small creek which remember all too well from my childhood, covered-bridge and all...

Making my way back to this memory-spattered lane was a very sad and moving experience for me. As time progresses, these nooks become almost a fiction, relegated to a place in memory where everything becomes canonized. The problem of memory is precisely that it is tied to a time and place, while the journey backwards affords one only the latter. Add to this the strange aesthetic of decay and entropy, and you have a truly bizarre journey.

That a landmark once so brimming with life could one day close its doors seems almost criminal to the social imagination. Memory's relation to imagination in this regard, then, is a hope bridging what is (or was, in this case), and what could possibly be. It seems that in spite of this, however, reality likes to remind us that it is brick, mortar and sweat that build the basis of all experience, and that like memory itself, all things go.

(To see the rest of the snaps from my visit, as well as high res. versions of those above, you can check out my flickr slideshow below.)

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