Leonard Cullen was the founder of Cullen Gardens and Miniature Village. Many referred to him as a horticulturalist, but he prefer to call himself an entrepreneur with a dream. He coupled his business interests in Weall and Cullen Garden Centres, with his keen interest in local history and love of community to create a gardener’s paradise. From opening day on May 31, 1980 it became a top daytrip destination for families all over the region, and shortly was known by people from across several countries. The attraction delighted and inspired countless amateur gardeners for 25 years.
Cullen Gardens and Miniature Village was located at Taunton Road and Cochrane Street in Whitby, Ontario It stood on over 34 acres of previously farmed and treed land sloping down towards the gently flowing Lynde Creek at the center of the valley. The natural features of land contours provided ideal viewpoints for many of the joyful displays.
Millions of tourists visited the 1/12th scale world of replicas featuring local homes, farms, businesses and amusement attractions with a 1/25th scale railway display criss-crossing the fractional town. Leonard Cullen’s ideas were proudly presented with vibrantly coloured floral gardens accompanied by the sound of young children’s voices as the backdrop. Meticulously detailed properties were created with lawns and flower beds any homeowner would be proud to call his own. Downtown streetscapes portrayed Whitby and surrounding points of interest as it was during the 1980s through to the early 2000s with its historic and newest landmarks.
An increasing number of visitors lead to expansions, one of which was the addition a restaurant and banquet hall. Special events like market sales and displays, musical entertainment, and weddings diversified the offerings and kept people coming back. Brides and grooms along with guests regularly took advantage of the beautifully manicured grounds for a session with their photographer.
Seasonal themes were a great time for the staff to show off their craft. Swaths of intense colour and fragrance captivated visitors during the Rose, Tulip and Chrysanthemum Festivals. Shutterbugs taking position, clicking and adding to their photo essays were a regular sighting.
Autumn featured Halloween haunted trails welcoming costumed children into the spooky village.
Christmas time brought in people from all over the region. The miniature village was decked out with lights, decorations and little town folk dressed in winter attire. Snow, reindeer and Santa carrying gift in his sleigh were all here to the delight of onlookers.
Ever the preservationist, in 1986 Leonard Cullen paid to have the oldest home in Durham Region, The Lynde House, relocated to Cullen Gardens and Miniature Village, thereby saving it from the wrecking ball. The distinctive Lynde House, constructed in 1811, was important to the early history of Whitby. A scaled replica of the home held a special place inside the miniature village. A few years following the closure of Cullen Gardens, the old house was moved, yet again, in 2013 to a new location in Whitby and revived as The Lynde House Museum, home to the Whitby Historical Society.
The Log Cabin served as a gift shop from the park’s earliest beginnings in 1981. Before it came to be here, it, like the Lynde House moved three times. It was built near Orangeville, Ontario around 1830, then in 1965 it was disassembled and moved to Courtice, Ontario where it served as a museum.
An original structure to the property was the Jones-Puckrin house, a two-story Victorian era home built in 1843. Before long it too was raised, moved and turned around in 1984 to accommodate its new purpose, “Granny’s” gift shop. In 2016, long after Cullen Gardens and Miniature Village was closed the house came under threat of demolition. Thankfully a Whitby couple saw its historical significance to their lives and had the old house moved to their farm property.
The Cottage was built circa 1850 in North Gower, Ontario. Leonard Cullen had it disassembled and rebuilt in 1968 on the yet to be established site of the Cullen Gardens and Miniature Village. The Cullen family used it as their summer home.
The Niagara Parks Commission appreciated the value of the miniature buildings and purchased them in 2012, thankfully saving them from demolition. Since 2017 many of the restored miniature buildings have been on permanent display surrounded by outdoor floral gardens at the Floral Showhouse across the street from the Niagara Falls.
Today as we wander along the remaining pathways and reminisce over the former village grounds, reminders of what used to be here remain visible . The children’s waterslides and splash pads, the mini putt golf course, the Kissing Bridge and the ancient millstone from Whitby’s Patly mill are embedded in place .
As told by Peter Cullen to DurhamRegion.com September 6, 2006.
“I like to walk in the woods in the fall, see the wildflowers in the spring,” he wrote. “I love to create something and see others enjoy it. I like the challenge of winning a contract and finishing the job on time, at a profit. I like building buildings, old architecture and Canadian antiques. These are some of the things that give me pleasure and fill me with satisfaction.”
“That really depicted who my dad was. He put that in all of his kids, “Peter said.
Leonard Cullen succumbed to pancreatic cancer on August 15, 2006. He was 81 years old. His entrepreneurial spirit, kindness and philanthropy was guided by Christian values. Scattered within neighbouring communities his work lives on because people cared. His relocated buildings, large and miniature, and cuttings from his gardens to yours all ensure his dream is still with us.