Avonlea Traditions Inc. is a Canadian owned and operated company founded in 1988 and based in Newmarket, Ontario.
Avonlea’s first products were based on Canada’s storybook character, Anne of Green Gables. We quickly secured a position as the world’s largest distributor of “Anne” products and began to develop several new theme-based collections, including a large range of award-winning porcelain and play dolls, stationery, antique replica doll furniture, and other fine collectibles and giftware.
In 2003, after more than a decade of research, Avonlea Traditions introduced the Maplelea Girls, a line of high quality, Canadian-themed 45 cm (18”) vinyl play dolls that are an inspiration to, and a reflection of, Canadian girls from coast to coast to coast. The Maplelea line has experienced rapid growth in recent years and has become our sole focus, with an ever-increasing range of products specially designed for girls aged 6 to 12.
Though it was a bit of a risk developing a line of dolls for the comparatively small Canadian market, the overwhelming support from Canadian families helped us expand our line to include 30 dolls and over 250 accessories, with new products being added all the time.
Some of the company’s recent awards include:
• 2015 Maplelea President, Kathryn Morton, Ranked #75 by PROFIT/Chatelaine Magazine for W100 Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs
• 2014 Maplelea President, Kathryn Morton, Ranked #48 by PROFIT/Chatelaine Magazine for W100 Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs
• 2014 Ranked #177 by Canadian Business Magazine as one of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies, based on revenue growth over five years.
• 2013 Ranked #155 by Canadian Business/PROFIT Magazine as one of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies, based on revenue growth over five years.
• 2012 Best Pick: New Products, Dr. Toy (for Maplelea Girl Saila)
• 2012 Children’s Choice Award from the Canadian Toy Testing Council (for Maplelea Girl Saila)
We take great pride in being a Canadian-based company. The development, design, sculpting, writing, illustration, shipping and customer service of Maplelea products is done in Canada. We’ve made special arrangements with a variety of Canadian suppliers to manufacture specific pieces for our collection, including craftspeople in Nunavut who make Saila’s Pang hat and Amazing Amauti, and the local manufacturers who make much of our girl-size clothing. Unfortunately, there are no vinyl doll factories in Canada, thus the assembly of our Canadian-designed products is mainly done at highly qualified, socially responsible factories in China.
As a mother with young children, Kathryn Gallagher Morton always thought carefully about the playthings she brought into her home. She was frustrated with the increasing number of diva-style dolls on the market that emphasized body image, dating and glamour. “Childhood is short enough; the last thing I wanted for my daughter was for her to wish it away.”
Kathryn also wanted her children to be proud of their Canadian heritage. She was concerned with her children being presented primarily with American icons and media, and after seeing the demand for Anne of Green Gables products, she knew other Canadian parents felt the same way.
Determined to “be the change,” Kathryn Gallagher Morton spent the 1990s researching the possibility of developing a series of Canadian-themed dolls that would reflect our country’s unique culture, heritage, and geography. Intense development work was done between 2000 and 2003 to bring this idea to reality. Kathryn began holding focus groups with girls, parents, and community members to get ideas and feedback about the characters she was developing. In addition to being age-appropriate and Canadian, Kathryn wanted the dolls to have an educational aspect to them. She felt that each character should come with a story.
Four characters were developed. There was one from the Rockies (Taryn, Alberta), one from the prairies (Brianne, Manitoba), one from a big city (Alexi, Toronto), and one from a coastal community (Jenna, Nova Scotia). A Canadian sculptor was hired to create the original clay sculpture of the head, arms, and legs. The original face mould was based on a girl from Aurora, Ontario. Canadian writers living in the four areas the characters were from were hired to write the story journals, and a unique art and fashion style were developed for each Maplelea Girl. In addition to the dolls, a starter outfit and wardrobe for each character was developed. The outfits and accessories included footwear, sleepwear, sportswear, winter wear, and more.
The Maplelea Girls made their debut at the Toy Fair in 2003. In 2005, Maplelea produced a catalogue to be mailed out with Chickadee magazine. As soon as the catalogue began arriving in homes across Canada, doll sales began to surge.
The overwhelming support from Canadian families allowed Maplelea to expand their line of dolls. In 2008 they added Léonie from Quebec, in 2011 they introduced Saila from Nunavut, and in August of 2015 Charlsea from BC was added. A considerable amount of time and research goes into the development of each new character, outfit, and accessory. During the two year span of developing Saila, the Maplelea Girl from Nunavut, Kathryn did considerable research, attended Inuit awareness seminars and met with cultural experts. She and her family also travelled to Nunavut to experience the culture first hand and to meet local families and community members. The result was a doll and story journal that were not only fun, but so culturally accurate that the Nunavut Department of Education purchased enough Saila dolls to place at least one in every childcare program in the Territory. Read all about it here.
Requests pour in every day for Maplelea to develop new dolls from all across Canada. This prompted the development of Maplelea Friends. With Maplelea Friends, girls can choose 1 of 23 different hair, eye and skin combinations, and use the accompanying journal filled with questions, prompts and blanks to write the story herself. There is also an extensive collection of outfits, sports and dance gear, heritage outfits, costumes, sleepwear, pets and more to personalize the character, and help bring that story to life.
Moving forward, Kathryn’s plan is to introduce a new Maplelea Girl character every few years in order to further represent Canada’s diversity. This includes a wide range of factors including, heritage, ethnicity, family composition, home province/territory, personality, and interests. Every detail, from the character’s heritage and interests to the design of the starter outfit, takes a considerable amount of time. Just as a real girl’s childhood should not be rushed, Kathryn feels there’s magic in taking the time to get things just right before a new doll is introduced. 2017 will bring exciting new developments on this front, so stay tuned!