Distinctly Canadian

Maplelea Girl dolls reflect Canadian culture, history and lifestyle, and it’s been a runaway success – and a major source of pride – for the woman behind them. Sheryl Bennett-Wilson tells her story.

There couldn’t be anything more quintessentially Canadian than an Anne of Green Gables doll. AndKathryn Gallagher Morton, president of Maplelea, should know. She sold Anne of Green Gables products for years, and knew how sought after Anne-related products were.

“I really loved the Anne products,” says Gallagher Morton, “but they reflected only one part of this vast country, and that bothered me.”

While she was still busy selling Anne of Green Gables products, she developed a business plan for a line of dolls that would represent other parts of Canada. “My planning lasted 10 years,” she laughs, “and finally I decided to just do it, so I did.”

The huge popularity of the American Girl Dolls was another push for Gallagher Morton. “I’m a proud Canadian,” she says, “and sure those dolls are lovely, but it kind of irked me that we are inundated with American culture when we have our own great stories to tell.”

Armed with opinions from parents, girls and community members as to what a Canadian doll should be, Gallagher Morton pulled together artists, writers, and a sculptor. In 2003, she launched Maplelea, a line featuring 45-centimetre (18-inch) dolls from four different parts of the country.

The Maplelea Girl dolls each had their own distinctive style and story. Taryn represented the mountains, Jenna the east coast, Brianne the Prairies, and Alexi was from the city.

“The Maplelea Girl dolls were fashioned after a 10- to 11-year-old girl,” says Gallagher Morton. “We found a young girl with the look we wanted, and the doll’s face was inspired by her. I wanted the dolls to be realistic.” The next step was getting the dolls into toy stores.

Maplelea Girl Dolls launched at the Canadian Toy Fair to much enthusiasm, but few orders. Eventually about 20 independent toy stores carried the dolls, but sales were slow.

Gallagher Morton says she and her team were stumped on to how to get the message out. She was just about ready to give up on her dream when she decided to try one last thing.

“We created a small mail-order catalogue for the dolls and had it inserted into a copy of Chickadee Magazine, and that proved to be the ticket.” The phone lines lit up.
Getting the information directly into the public’s hands worked.

“Using Chickadee Magazine proved to be the perfect way to get to our target market,” says Gallagher Morton, “so I’m sure glad I didn’t give up.”

Maplelea Girl dolls were a hit. And the company has made the list of Canada’s fastest-growing companies four times. “We started getting tons of suggestions,” says Gallagher Morton, “and most often it was a request for more dolls.”

So she reached out to girls and asked them who the next Maplelea Girl doll should be. “Oh my gosh,” she says, “we got flooded with suggestions, along with story lines for the dolls and drawings.” She says two main themes emerged. “Girls wanted a Maplelea Girl doll from French Canada and one from the North.” Over the next couple of years, Léonie from Quebec City and Saila from Nunavut joined the Maplelea Girls.

Maplelea Girl dolls are distinctly Canadian. The stories that come with the dolls reflect Canadian culture, history and lifestyle. “Part of the story that comes with the Léonie doll includes a reference to the Canadian Women’s Hockey Team,” says Gallagher Morton. “And for Saila I traveled to Iqaluit, as well as doing extensive research to get her story right.”

The Nunavut Department of Education was so impressed with the Saila doll, they ordered many for their Cultural Education program.

And Gallagher Morton knows there are many more Canadian stories to tell. “We created Maplelea Friends, so girls can create their own unique character with their own story.”

The Maplelea Friends dolls come with different hair, eye and skin colour, and a fill-in-the-blanks journal to help girls create their own story.

Gallagher Morton says she loves hearing suggestions from girls across the country. “We do use the suggestions and it does help us with new product development. So, keep the ideas coming.”

Find out more about Maplelea Girls at www.maplelea.com and send your ideas to submissions@Maplelea.com.