As a proud Canadian, Kathryn Gallagher Morton was always a bit miffed that our country was constantly inundated with American culture, American icons and American playthings. “We have our own story, and it should be told”, she often said. But, as an entrepreneur she wondered, would it sell? She tested the waters cautiously. In the early days her business focussed on creating collectibles and toys that helped to tell one of Canada’s most famous stories, Anne of Green Gables. Response was so great that her company made the list of Canada’s 100 fastest growing companies.
But Anne of Green Gables reflected only one time and place in Canada’s story. What about the rest of the country? What about telling our story from a modern perspective, through the voices of girls who lived in Canada’s various regions? To help her explore this idea she talked to parents, to girls and to various community members and asked for their vision of a Canadian Girl doll.
Armed with that information, and with the assistance of her staff and some talented Canadian artists, writers and sculptor, she created a collection of contemporary 18 inch doll characters from four different parts of Canada. She called it Maplelea.
The line launched in 2003 with a view to selling it through independent toy stores. But, very few stores wanted to carry the line, and she had trouble getting the word out to Canadian families. Sales were slow. Almost ready to give up, she decided to try one last thing. A mail order catalogue was created and sent out with a children’s magazine. When the information landed directly into the hands of families in all corners of Canada, the phone lines lit up. In the years that followed, Maplelea has gone on to make the list of Canada’s fastest growing companies four times.
Maplelea started by showcasing Canada’s distinct geographical areas. The four initial characters included Taryn, an outdoors enthusiast from the Rockies; Brianne, who is passionate about dance and life on her Prairie farm; Alexi, a tech savvy girl of Cabbagetown in Toronto, and Jenna, who lives in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and loves sports of all sorts.
Soon requests came in asking for more characters. So, Kathryn put it out to the public and asked for their input as to who the next Maplelea Girl should be. The responses flooded in—from highly detailed storylines to drawings in crayon, the letters and emails piled up. So many great ideas—how could one ever choose?
But when the submissions were sorted, two main themes emerged—Canadians wanted a character from French Canada, and they wanted one from up North. Over the next few years Léonie, a hockey playing musician from Quebec City and Saila, a proud Inuk from Nunavut joined the Maplelea Girls.
The making of Saila is indicative of the amount of research that goes into the creation of a Maplelea Girl character and the 64-page story journal that accompanies her. Kathryn researched online and printed materials extensively and attended an Inuit Awareness seminar. Then, for ten days over the Christmas holidays, Kathryn and her family travelled to Iqaluit where they participated in community celebrations, sampled traditional country foods, stayed in a local home, talked to craftspeople, attended a bilingual Church service (English and Inuktitut), visited a school and other community facilities and agencies, toured the very distinctive parliament buildings and chatted to a lot of wonderfully friendly people. While attending the Christmas Games held at a local hall over several evenings, Kathryn had the opportunity to personally interview a number of girls who eagerly shared with her their stories of what it is like to be a young girl growing up in Nunavut today. Kathryn also sought out local Maplelea families and asked them for their ideas and suggestions for this new character.
A Canadian artist was commissioned to sculpt the doll, and based on the information that had been gathered, a wardrobe and accessories were created, and the story journal was written, illustrated, and then translated into French and Inuktitut. To make traditional Inuit clothing items for the doll, Maplelea contracted with the craftspeople at Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts and Crafts in Pangnirtung to produce a Pang hat, and with Kiluk Ltd. in Arviat to produce a doll-sized amauti. In Fall of 2011 the Saila Qilavvaq doll was launched, and Kathryn held her breath.
Despite all the research she had done, she still wondered—did she “get it right”? Being not of indigenous culture, did she succeed in crafting an accurate and realistic story of an Inuit girl living in Nunavut today? CBC Radio Iqaluit called for an interview. Pleasantries and information were exchanged. Near the end of the on-air conversation, the broadcaster relayed the story of a local elder who was very skeptical of the Maplelea project. Despite that, the elder had taken the time to read the doll’s story journal and once he did, he became one of Maplelea’s biggest supporters. Later, when the Nunavut Department of Education called and placed an order for enough Saila dolls to place one in every childcare facility in the Territory as part of their Cultural Education program, Kathryn relaxed, confident that Maplelea had “got it right”.
There are still so many Canadian stories to tell and knowing that Maplelea can’t tell them all, the Maplelea Friends were created. These dolls of different hair, eye and skin colours come with a journal filled with questions, prompts and blanks so each girl or family can create their own Canadian Girl™ character and accessorize it with outfits of their choosing.
Maplelea has continued to expand and in 2015, after extensive research and local community involvement, Charlsea Woodhouse of Salt Spring Island, BC joined the Maplelea family.
But now it is time to create the next Maplelea character. What are your ideas and thoughts? In what part of Canada should the next Maplelea story be set? Maplelea loves hearing from Canadians in every corner of our country and uses the suggestions it receives to help guide new product development. We would love to hear from you!
Maplelea products are not sold in stores. To make the dolls and accessories available in all parts of Canada, and to keep prices reasonable for the exceptionally high-quality line, Maplelea™ is only sold online and by catalogue from their distribution centre in Newmarket, ON. To read more about the Maplelea Girls or to shop, visit www.maplelea.com.
Click here to WIN a Maplelea doll of your choice!
|Brought to you by Maplelea Girls.