The before-times machine
Little Canada has a lotta nostalgia, and a welcome escape from reality.
Let’s close out this tilt-a-whirl of the last year at a theme park.
Well, “theme park” makes it sound vast and thrilling, whereas this one is small-scale (yet epic in its own way) and the joys more low-key.
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Little Canada is Toronto’s newest tourist attraction, an unusual addition — in any year, let alone a pandemic one — to the dystopian grit of Yonge-Dundas Square. It distills the country’s landmarks and cityscapes (only those in Ontario and Quebec, for now) into miniaturized form, with astonishing attention to every detail. Passengers alight as the UP Express doors open and close; brake lights come on as cars veer around curves; the Rogers Centre’s roof plates retract with perfect accuracy.
But that’s not why we’ve come here today. When you ride the escalator down beneath the city’s busiest intersection, you are not only entering a delightfully intricate representation of the country in miniature; you are being transported back in time. To the “before times,” to be specific.
Here, the trains run constantly and on time. The traffic rarely snarls. The weather is always good — and it’s summer everywhere except in the winter wonderland of Quebec, home to ice hotels, sugar shacks, and canoe races across a semi-frozen St. Lawrence.
Life here is happy and wholesome, from the Tulip Festival in Ottawa to the outdoor event wedding in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Theatres and stadiums are packed. Romeo and Juliet is playing to a capacity crowd — indoors! — at Stratford’s Festival Theatre. Come From Away (which just closed permanently) is still playing at the Royal Alex. The Raptors (partially sidelined by quarantines) are back in winning form circa 2019, playing to a full house at Scotiabank Arena while fans cluster outside in Jurassic Park.
Here, no one keeps a six-foot distance, and no one — except the visitors, and the Little Canada staffers studiously disinfecting the installation with a spray bottle and cloth — is wearing a mask.
Of course, this is all by design, in keeping with the vision of Little Canada’s founder, Jean-Louis Brenninkmeijer.
As a sign informs you near the end of the exhibition, in both English and Dutch, “Here the world is still OK.”
To my surprise, that illusion alone is worth the price of admission — $29 plus HST per adult1 is a lot to pay to see a model exhibition of a country that’s only partly finished. But I’d pay it again.
Partway through this miniature marvel, between Ottawa and the Golden Horseshoe, is the “Littlization Station,” where visitors can step inside a spherical contraption fitted with lights and cameras that take a 360-degree photo. This image can then be used to make a miniature model version of yourself, so you too, for a fee, can become a resident of Little Canada.
Before my son and I step inside, the station operator lets us know that at this point we’re allowed to remove our masks.
When in Rome, I guess…
By comparison, the Royal Ontario Museum general admission is $23 plus HST; Ripley’s Aquarium is $43-plus.