The name Bata has been synonymous with shoes since Tomas Bata began manufacturing them in 1894 in Zlin, a town in what is now the Czech Republic. Following the nationalization of all Central and Eastern European Bata plants after World War II, Bata’s son Thomas J. Bata, and his wife Sonja, immigrated to Canada to set up Bata headquarters in Toronto.
While accompanying her husband on business trips abroad, Sonja Bata became fascinated by the history of shoes and began collecting them in every country she visited. Her private collection grew so vast that it overwhelmed her home. She therefore commissioned architect Raymond Moriyama to design a museum for her 13,000 artifacts spanning 4,500 years of history.
Moriyama’s stunning, five-storey, 39,000-square-foot, glass and limestone clad shoe-box-shaped building opened in 1995. As well as displaying shoes, the Museum is a research centre with a mission “to contribute to the knowledge and understanding of the role of footwear in the social and cultural life of humanity through acquiring, conserving, researching, communicating, and exhibiting material evidence related to the history of footwear and shoemaking”.
The Museum’s excellent descriptive panels and labels define mankind’s relationship with footwear from the time he/she was able to walk upright 3,700,000 years ago. A pre-historic Otzi man shoe example, evolves into displays of Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman and North American Puebloan sandals. Footwear as fashion statements are illustrated by the bejeweled and silver footwear of Indian Maharajas and West African sandals decorated with gold-leaf ornaments. Tiny Chinese shoes fit feet that were bound from childbirth to maintain their ideal size: three inches. Renaissance, Tudor, Baroque and Rococo shoes are shown to have sturdy heels, silk and brocade uppers and large buckles, a form of shoe jewelry.
Rare examples of religious footwear, arctic boots, snowshoes, astronauts’ space boots, 19th century skates, pointe shoes, lead to an amazing group of shoe designers and celebrities who wore their shoes. Designers: Andre Perugia, Roger Vivier, Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo. Among the wearers: Queen Victoria, Horatio Nelson, Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, the Dalai Lama, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Rudolph Nureyev, Ella Fitzgerald, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Sir Elton John, Robert Redford, Madonna, Sarah McLachlan, Shaquille O’Neal (size 20EEE), Roger Federer, Bjorn Borg.
It is a unique experience to follow mankind’s history and culture through shoes.
327 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1W7
Telephone: (416) 979-7799 www.batashoemuseum.ca
Admission: Adults: $14., Seniors: $12., Students: $8., Children: $5.
Monday – Saturday: 10 AM –5 PM, Thursday: 10 AM – 8 PM, Sunday: 12 PM – 5 PM