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Saturday, December 2, 2023
Model citizen: St. Davids’ Leslie Mann built a career out of small-scale skylines
Leslie Mann, with his latest project for a Barrie developer. RICHARD HUTTON
St. Davids resident Leslie Mann, makes some adjustments to a model he is working on for a Barrie developer.
Leslie Mann's handiwork was on display at an event, which was attended by Donald Trump's daughter, Ivanka. to showcase the new second tower for the Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., in the 1990s.
Leslie Mann with a photo of the model that started his career -- the CN Tower.

There’s a multi-tower, 30-storey development going up right now in St. Davids, but in order to get a glimpse of it, you’d need to head down to Leslie Mann’s basement.

Mann, you might say, is a “model” citizen. Through his business, Models by Mann, he has been creating scaled-down representations of buildings for developers for 40 years. 

It’s something he began to do shortly after graduating from art school at Sheridan College in Oakville back in 1977.

“While I was in art school, I took an elective which was actually sort of a basic model-making course one semester,” he said. 

“That’s where it all started.”

Now 66 years old, Mann is slowing his pace, but keeping his hand in the model-building profession. 

He is now working on a project for a developer in Barrie – the aforementioned tower project.

“I liked to build three-dimensional (things). When I was a kid, I used Lego and Mechano and all that kind of stuff. I never realized there was a career in building models,” Mann said.

But what a career it has been. He created five scale models of the CN Tower that were used for promotion of what was once the world’s tallest freestanding structure. It has fallen to 10th with the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in the United Arab Emirates now holding down top spot.

“They would break into pieces, and they were mounted in suitcases. And they would take them to hotels across Canada and set them up and have somebody there handing out leaflets,” Mann said.

He plies his trade in the old-school way but also uses lasers and 3-D printers.

Lasers make the work quicker and easier, but he still uses a cutting blade for some things.

“I’m looking at it when I finish it, like a piece of art in a way. I’m critical of my workmanship and that sort of thing, whereas they’re more building a car to ship it out,” he said.

Probably one of the more famous buildings that Mann was tasked with creating was a model of phase one of the Trump Plaza in Hoboken, N.J. 

The facility wound up closing its doors in 2014 after losing money for years.

Since moving to St. Davids, Mann has established a working relationship with west Niagara builder DeSantis Homes and created the models for the company’s Century Condos in downtown Grimsby.

DeSantis turned to Mann after previously outsourcing its model work to China, something Mann said was a trend in the business.

That sometimes meant phone calls in the middle of the night to communicate with the model-makers.

Needless to say, DeSantis was happy to be working with someone who was local, Mann said.

“Working with me, they can come here and see it, which is great for me and great for them. So it’s worked out.”

Creating models takes time, Mann said, with the average building taking anywhere from six to 12 weeks.

Inevitably, clients “always want it yesterday and … don’t appreciate how long it really takes to get it done,” he said.

While he has made a career in building models, he is now finding time to return to creating his own art.

“Once I got busy with this, there was no turning back. It was sort of regrettable because I never hardly did any artwork, because I used to do drawing,” Mann said.

Now, the model-maker is slowly returning to his roots, and in the last couple of years, has been exploring the world of watercolour painting – a chance to try something different.

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