It’s the little plastic block that has sparked the imaginations of both young and old for decades.
For London’s Rick Keane, it has also provided the foundation of a business that you can say he has built brick by brick.
With about four-and-a-half million pieces and counting, Keane has the largest private collection of Lego in Canada and is the mastermind behind Lego Guys London and brickplay.ca — a company that makes money not by selling anything, but instead through promoting play.
While most people get their start with Lego as a kid, Keane’s Lego fixation began in his late 30s.
After selling the family business and with two young boys, Keane found himself in the role of stay-at-home-dad while his wife went to work each day as an accountant. He easily remembers the first kit he ever bought, a Lego Technic 8860.
Picking it up thinking it was “a cool car kind of thing with a rolling chassis,” Keane had no idea at that time where that decision would eventually take his life.
Switching over from that original Technic set to the City series for his kids, his collection grew by leaps and bounds, with much of it sourced online through eBay.
Keane joked that his wife now wishes she had never agreed to it in the beginning, “because we are talking about a lot of Lego.”
Before long, the collection had grown to the point where people coming to his house would suggest he needed to do something with it all, such as start a Lego museum.
Seizing upon the idea, Keane did just that, compiling a collection of kits dating back to 1951 — the time the first actual Lego sets were released. His travelling Lego museum now covers upwards of 20,000 square-feet when it’s laid out all at one time.
Having seen the joy on the faces of kids who had gotten to play with some of the various kits he had amassed, Keane really wasn’t interested in selling it all either and so brickplay.ca was born.
Now 52, Keane has become so creative with the little plastic bricks he has achieved the level of Master Builder status, successfully completing his certification in Windsor, England.
The largest thing he has built? A city covering more than 200 square-feet, including everything from a carwash to an airport constructed from a combination of kits and scratch build components.
Keane’s favourite, though, is the original Mos Eisley Cantina set from the Star Wars series.
By Lego’s 50th anniversary in 2008, it was estimated the company had already produced about 400 billion bricks. By 2012, annual production hit 47.5 billion.
Entire generations have now grown up with Lego, and Keane noted there probably isn’t a child out there that doesn’t know about it.
“Tons of adults still play with Lego,” he said.
To back that up, he pointed to the corporate and team-building events run through brickplay.ca, in which they actually get to sit and create with Lego.
“They all have an absolute riot at it.”