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In Pictures: American, Canadian dolls duel over little girls' hearts

American dolls bring big competition for the Maplelea Girls

The Maplelea Girls are the Canadian alternative to the wildly popular American Girl dolls, which have been staging a brash invasion of the Canadian market. Created by Avonlea Traditions Inc., the Maplelea Girls, a line of six 18-inch-tall, Canadian-themed dolls, represent Canada’s geographic and cultural mix. Kathryn Gallagher Morton is owner and president of Avonlea Traditions.

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Here is Saila, from Iqaluit. She is one of the six Maplelea Girls, which also include the budding environmentalist Tanya of Banff in her bright blue hiking boots, and hockey playing Léonie from Quebec City. Saila wears traditional kamik footwear (her parka and hat, made by Inuit craftspeople, are optional extras). The Maplelea dolls sell for about $100.

Avonlea Traditions Inc.

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This is Alexi, described in marketing materials as “a city girl on the go.” Ms. Gallagher Morton founded her company in 1988 when she began selling products based on the Canadian storybook character Anne of Green Gables. She developed the Maplelea Girls in 2003 and dropped all her previous products. The Maplelea Girls really took off after she created a catalogue and circulated it with children’s magazines, she says.

Avonlea Traditions Inc.

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Today the company’s big challenge is the American Girl dolls, made by Mattel Inc. They are shown here in a 2013 file photo on display at a boutique in the Indigo Books store at Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto. A similar boutique was launched at Indigo’s Eaton Centre store this summer.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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Avonlea and Mattel both are competing for the same target market of girls age 6 to 12.

Avonlea Traditions Inc.

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Ms. Gallagher Morton says that American marketing usually reaches young girls first. “A lot of people still don’t know we exist. And the girls don’t differentiate between American and Canadian, even though the parents do.”

Avonlea Traditions Inc.

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Carlee B. of Manitoba feeds the chickens with her doll Brianne.

Avonlea Traditions Inc.

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This is Taryn, described as an outdoorsy girl from the Rockies. Ms. Gallagher Morton says she wants her dolls to encourage girls to enjoy the “real world.” “Our dolls are really meant to help girls get out and explore Canada and learn more about the country.”

Avonlea Traditions Inc.

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Based in Newmarket, Ont., the Canadian company has done well with annual revenue of more than $5-million. It sells thousands of dolls each year, plus clothing and accessories. It also plans to step up its own game this fall with the introduction of a seventh Maplelea Girl and by opening a retail store in Thornhill, Ont.

Avonlea Traditions Inc.

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Ms. Gallagher Morton wonders how to compete with American Girl dolls, which are very much online-focused, with games, stories and a virtual world linked to the dolls’ characters.

Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

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