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One man's Legoland becomes Toronto's playground

Graeme Dymond had always been known among loved ones as “the Lego guy.” The notched plastic blocks followed him throughout his childhood and into adulthood, as a teacher’s college graduate and TD bank employee tasked with corporate training. 
"At the bank, I developed a training program that incorporated Lego, so that all these professional bank people would get together and do a little building activity to level the playing field," he says.
But Dymond didn’t see himself toiling at the bank forever. His dream was to work for Lego. 
After months of anticipation, Canada’s first Legoland Discovery Centre opened at Vaughan Mills shopping centre at the beginning of March. The $12-million, 34,000 square foot attraction includes Lego rides, a 4D cinema experience augmented by the addition of actual wind, rain and snow, and a miniature city of Toronto known as "Miniland," fashioned in Lego by a team of builders over the course of 5,000 hours.
"[The development] is pretty significant," says Stephen Gascoine, General Manger of Vaughan Mills shopping centre. "From our view, we think it is going to be a fantastic entertainment addition to the shopping centre. And we believe it will drive great traffic to the centre, and to that area of the shopping centre in particular." 
The Vaughan Mills Legoland Discovery Centre is the sixth in North America, joining discovery complexes with similar setups in Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Westchester, and Dallas/Fort Worth. A seventh in Yonkers, New York is set to open at the end of this month. Lego also claims adventure theme parks in Florida and California. 
While Vaughan's new discovery centre includes rides, these centres are more about facilitating hands-on interaction between consumers and Lego products. The crux of this interaction is its Master Builder Academy, a mini classroom where a master builder (and other builders trained by the lead master builder) teaches Lego modeling classes throughout the day, included with the centre's price of admission. 
Recruiting for the principal master builder position became a keystone in the centre's pre-opening PR, involving a high-profile national contest to find the single person who, in many respects, would be the face of the attraction. Over 200 people applied from across Canada, but it was Toronto’s Dymond who got the gig. 
"We call him our Dymond in the rough," says Lara Hannaford, Marketing Manger at the Legoland Discovery Centre, one of the principals involved in planning the contest and Dymond’s subsequent hiring. 
Hannaford describes the contest as Legoland's "first public outreach and awareness." While media were privy to the centre's groundbreaking, the very public hiring of the centre's head builder aimed to generate buzz among Lego fans themselves. The method, Hannaford says, has been standard practice for all preceding Legoland Discovery Centres. 
On paper, Dymond was certainly the perfect fit. His Facebook wall was routinely littered with Lego-related posts, and over the years he'd authored several Lego blogs. For his birthday, just one week before the weekend-long competition build-off, Lego was his top gift. "I never grew up!" he jokes. But he was up against stiff competition that included a number of serious builders. The contest's structure posed additional challenges.
"There were different rounds, and you had a limited amount of time for each one, and a limited number of Lego styles for each one," he says, describing how each round required candidates to build along the lines of various categories: sports, household items, animals, and "what best defines you." The group went from 200 to 50, 50 to 25, 25 to 12, and eventually Dymond was selected from the top three finalists. 
One thing that set Dymond apart was his inclination toward storytelling. While the sports round put him up against contestants keen on reconstructing game settings with minute detail, Dymond put together a diorama about the hockey strike, reconstructing an entire narrative instead of a single image or scene. But his background would also prove an asset. 
"I've got my teaching degree, and I do a lot of volunteer work with youth," he says. "Combined with a little bit of a business background, it came together pretty well for the job. And I didn't even realize that all these skills I'd been developing would come together in this really cool way."
Now, as the Master Builder at Legoland, Dymond gets to work with kids every day. His primary responsibility is managing the Academy’s model building curriculum, which includes designing the models built for each class.  He also is tasked with maintaining the centre's Miniland diorama and planning monthly adult nights at the centre. Most importantly, he's in charge of "making sure there's lots of Lego on site and kids are having as much fun as they possibly can."

The best part of the job is that it has no expiration date. Dymond could, theoretically, be building Lego for a living for the rest of his life. 
Dymond can't quite believe his luck. "This is pretty amazing. I've still got deadlines and lists of tasks, but they're like, 'build something fun for the cash registers,' just finding different ways to build things out of Lego and integrate Lego more and more into the site."
"It’s like something that would happen to somebody in the movies or on TV." 

Kelli Korducki is a writer and reporter based in Toronto.
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