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Cullen Gardens Inc.
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In 1965, Leonard Cullen, owner of Weall & Cullen Nurseries Ltd., a garden supply and landscaping business in the Greater Toronto Area, purchased 150 acres of land on Taunton Road West in Whitby in order to establish a recreational garden for tourists and a Weall & Cullen farm property. 100 acres of property was designated for Weall & Cullen, while the remaining 50-acre parcel was set aside for the recreational garden. Cullen developed these 50 acres over the following years, adding a miniature village of Southern Ontario homes built to 1/12th scale, restaurant, gift shop, tea room, mini golf course, washrooms, rockery, paths, and various flower beds. On December 30, 1971, Cullen officially incorporated his park and village as Cullen Gardens of Cedar Valley Incorporated. This name was later changed to Cullen Gardens Incorporated. On May 30, 1980, the site was opened to the public as Cullen Gardens and Miniature Village.
The company specialized in seasonal floral displays, special events for holidays (particularly its winter Festival of Lights), live performances, and its miniature village, which initially featured 600 hand-built miniature people, 150 vehicles, and 80 structures. Cullen Gardens was open from late spring to early January of each year. In peak season and at the height of its popularity, Cullen Gardens employed around 150 individuals. The organization retained a full-time staff of 30 individuals year-round and hired seasonal employees from May to December.
In 1981, Cullen Gardens Inc. purchased Hood Park, an 88-acre tract of land that was also located on Taunton Road West (Lot 28, Concession 3). The company donated 17 acres of this property to the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec in the mid-1980s for the establishment of a Baptist Leadership Education Centre. The remainder of the Hood Park property was sold to a developer.
In 1986, Leonard Cullen paid to move the Lynde House Museum, a Georgian home built in Whitby between 1812-1814 for the Lynde family, to Cullen Gardens. Staff renovated the house and added artifacts and life-sized animatronic figures representing the Lynde family. The museum re-opened in June 1988. In subsequent years, Cullen Gardens also paid to transport five historic homes from the Greater Toronto Area to the site. These homes, which had originally been slated for demolition, were intended for a new tourist attraction called the Prettiest Street in Ontario. Leonard Cullen hoped to install luxury boutiques and bed and breakfast accommodations in the houses, but due to financial constraints and rising insurance costs, this vision was never realized.
In 1986, Leonard Cullen's son, Peter began working as a groundskeeper at Cullen Gardens. In 1988, Susan Green, Leonard Cullen's daughter, became involved in the administration of the business, particularly the management of shops and food services. Susan Green and Peter Cullen also began acquiring shares from Leonard Cullen.
In 1987, Cullen Gardens added a new fine dining restaurant, which was initially called the Garden Gate Restaurant and eventually became Cullen Gardens Restaurant. In the same year, Cullen Gardens created banquet rooms, a tower lobby entrance, and a miniature cottage country. In May, these new attractions were opened to the public in an especially momentous ceremony, which was attended by Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario Lincoln Alexander.
In spite of such additions, Cullen Gardens struggled to remain profitable throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. The organization's challenges during this time included a 1989 fire that destroyed the original restaurant and gift shop, rising insurance costs, and the introduction of the federal Goods and Services Tax. By 1999, Susan Green purchased Peter Cullen's shares and became president of the organization, as well as sole owner of the Cullen Gardens property. In an effort to attract new visitors, Cullen Gardens renovated its fine dining restaurant and re-opened it as a casual dining facility (the Grill and Grape Restaurant). This initiative was unsuccessful.
In January 2006, Susan Green sold the Cullen Gardens property and buildings to the Corporation of the Town of Whitby. The miniature village collection was purchased by the City of Oshawa, who in turn sold it to Niagara Parks in 2011.
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Description created by Gillian Dunks (Archives at Whitby Public Library) in December 2017.
Cullen, Len and Gwen Cullen. "...Some Fell on Good Ground." Self-Published. 1997.
Cullen, Len and Adele Stephens. "Dig About It...And Dung It." Self-Published. 1983.
Susan Green (Former owner of Cullen Gardens Inc.), interviewed by Gillian Dunks, Whitby, ON, November 2017.
Law, John. “A Small World Comes to Niagara Parks.” St Catherine Standard, November 21, 2012. Accessed November 20, 2017. http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2012/11/21/a-small-world-comes-to-niagara-parks.