Civil engineer David MacLean (BASc 1985) designs and develops roads, bridges and railways, even stadiums and factories — and you could tour everything he’s built in about five minutes.
That’s because MacLean creates small-scale models, many of which could fit in the palm of your hand. Right now, he’s designing a tiny Toronto – his first step to miniaturizing the entire country.
Our Home and Miniature Land is a first-of-its-kind project that will capture Canada’s most well-known buildings and geographical features through miniature interactive 3-D exhibits. The goal is to open as a museum in Toronto in the summer of 2017 – Canada’s 150th birthday – with exhibits of Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Niagara, and to eventually grow into a 20-exhibit, 12,000-square-foot display. The $10-million, privately funded project is currently under construction at a warehouse in Mississauga. “The fun part is dreaming this up — making something that’s interesting, educational and visually appealing, but that is also buildable,” says MacLean. “That’s the creative challenge.”
Hearing the kid-in-a-candy-store delight in MacLean’s voice, it’s hard to imagine him doing anything else for a living. But since graduating from U of T in 1985, most of his career has been decidedly more conventional, with roles in project management for high-rise builders in Toronto and Montreal, and, most recently, as a manager at FedEx Canada.
In his personal time, however, MacLean avidly pursued a hobby he learned as a child from his father: model train–making. It’s a passion that has led to many side jobs building customized model trains, and to serving multiple times as president of the Model Railroad Club of Toronto. It was through the club that MacLean met Jean-Louis Brenninkmeijer, who was looking for a business partner to help develop his miniature Canada idea. The opportunity to design models full time was too good to resist, so in January 2014, MacLean joined the company.
Figuring out exactly how to make and what to include in a miniature Canada has involved viewing Miniatur Wunderland (the largest model railway in the world) in Germany and other exhibits in Europe — where model-making is more advanced – and going on field trips to cities throughout Canada. From there, he and his team of model-makers, illustrators, engineers and carpenters began translating the chosen landmarks into wood and plastic models.
“I get to design a world, and I have to put all the elements into it. You start with hundreds of flat sheets of plywood, and you have to turn them into something believable and realistic,” he says.
The Toronto exhibit already includes a three-metre tall CN Tower with moving elevators, a Rogers Centre with a retractable roof, and other prominent city landmarks such as the Air Canada Centre, St. Lawrence Market and Distillery District. The next city in the works is Hamilton. When the museum opens, visitors will also be able to take a workshop in model-making and go on a behind-the-scenes tour. “It will be something this country has never seen,” says MacLean.
Watch a video about the making of Our Home and Miniature Land
Watch: Go behind the scenes to find out more about the creation of Our Home and Miniature Land (Explore Part 1):