Thursday, 13 March 2014




To continue our celebration of International Women’s day on Musings, I would like to discuss the influential, innovative, and cultured woman who founded one of Toronto’s favourite local gems: none other than Mrs. Sonja Bata of the Bata Shoe Museum! As a kid of the 80’s and 90’s, I definitely sported many pairs of trendy yet sensible Bata shoes. After visiting this authentic museum and researching the history of its foundation, I discovered how little I knew about the rich history that was embodied in my snazzy kicks

Originally born in Switzerland, Mrs. Bata moved to Canada after pursuing her education in Architecture. Here she met her husband, Tomáš Jan Baťa, who had left the Communist occupied Czechoslovakia to reestablish his family shoe company in Canada. By 1946 they were married, and together they rebuilt their iconic shoe company in North America.

Mrs. Bata actively embraced the business as she studied shoe design, pattern cutting, and orthopaedics. In between her whirlwind travels, she even designed a signature shoe line and developed marketing strategies. She collected numerous shoes from the around the world that ranged in style, culture, and stylistic period. The rapid disappearance of traditional footwear motivated her to accumulate such a wide array of shoes. With the growing popularity of modern European designs, shoes that embodied the heritage practices of many cultures were slowly disappearing into obscurity. Mrs. Bata recognized the negative effects this could have on many cultures, and set out on a quest to not only preserve but to share various global histories through the lens of footwear. She accumulated thousands of shoes that now make up the museum’s collection, which houses 12,500 artifacts that span over 4,500 years. Having visited the collection facilities during a class trip, I can attest to the amazing array of designs this exceptional museum cares for.

What makes Mrs. Bata such a remarkable individual is perfectly conveyed through her museum mission.

      “The mission of the Bata Shoe Museum is 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 illustrates the living habits, the culture and the customs of people.”

What better way to learn about cultural traditions of craftsmanship, fashion, and ritual, than through a (mostly) universal object that embodies such knowledge. Shoes are in many ways foundational (no pun intended!) objects of cultural ritual, as they hold such a prominent role in our daily lives. They are even commonly portrayed in our culture and folklore (Dorothy's red shoes, Cinderella's glass slippers, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, etc.) While Mrs. Bata’s collection includes everyday historic and contemporary shoes, it also includes rare objects such as French chestnut crushing boots and Samurai bear fur shoes, to name a few. What I believe makes Mrs. Bata’s work so important are her contributions to the research field of shoemaking; in particular Native American practice. As the intricate art of shoemaking is slowly disappearing, Mrs. Bata has asserted the value of this craft through human history. What a remarkable woman!

Do you believe shoes embody such value as previously discussed?
In what ways do you think Mrs. Bata and her museum have benefited the history of shoes? Please share your thoughts.


  1. Alexandra Jeffery13 March 2014 at 14:01

    Shoes evoke the same sense of cultural heritage as garments do, to me. I think they can showcase and inform fashion history as well as cultural practice. I think that both shoes and garments, as well as other accessories, can reveal a lot about the culture/society/time period from which they originate and can offer a lot to the historical record. However, while I do think histories that can be told from such specific material culture are interesting and potentially important the Bata museum does make me wonder about the viability of such niche institutions.

  2. Great post! :) I didn't really know about the Bata shoe company growing up, I knew about the museum as a kid. I remember one of my friends being obsessed with the museum so for her birthday we organized a trip to Toronto to visit it. When I was travelling in Europe I ended up buying a pair of Bata shoes, but still I didn't make the connection. When I got back and moved to Toronto to start in the MMst program, only then did I make the link between the museum and the company .Alex, your comment is definitely food for thought. What constitutes a niche institution? Is the Gardiner Ceramics museum a niche institution? Is it viable? Why? Do we put more value on ceramics as valuable works of art than shoes? What is it that a niche institution can offer over a general museum? So much to think about and question!

  3. The first time I entered the Bata, I found myself very skeptical about the strange connection between the the brand and the museum content but the more I know about the Bata Museum, the more I am fascinated by all these narratives which typically do not co-exist in museums so obviously and transparently. I think it is great that we have access to so much about the history of collecting of shoes, even if the collecting, as we all know, is often problematic. But I do think that the Bata allows for us to reflect on the practice of collecting as a messy and complex practice.

  4. The Bata certainly does have an interesting dynamic as far as museums go. Yes, it is indeed named after Bata, as in, the same Bata from the shoe company and shoe brand. However, I believe the museum is more closely connected to Mrs. Bata as a person, a passionate collector, and supporter of art and culture in all its diverse forms, rather than specifically being a product of a corporate brand.
    While Mrs. Bata was involved with the shoe company due to her husbands work and her wish to partake in it, she truly did venture out on her own (quite unexpectedly even to herself according to my docent research) in order to create a unique project she could share with the public. This raises an interesting question regarding the connection between the Bata brand, the Bata as museum, and even Mrs. Bata as the museum's authority (as she is still very active in all aspects of the museum). Based on my own personal experiences at the museum both as visitor and docent, I can honestly say I have never noticed too much emphasis placed on connecting the museum with the Bata company's brand (other than the name of course). In the museum's exhibits, other than the temporary sneaker exhibit, the connection to the brand name in a corporate sense is not emphasized. It is the personal connection to Mrs. Bata that is highlighted. Even in the sneaker exhibition, there are only maybe 2 or 3 actual Bata brand shoes on display. I see the museum's name more connected to Mrs. Bata as a person than the Bata corporation/brand, and thus I see the museum as a more personal, perhaps even more human and relatable institution (if that makes sense?). Perhaps others see it differently? (and do share!)

  5. Mrs. Bata has been very kind & gracious in consenting to sell the land, which housed Bata HQs, and combined with the adjacent plot purchased by Aga Khan Foundation, for the purpose of Aga Khan Museum, The Ismaili Centre & The Aga Khan Park on Wynford Drive. His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan acknowledged the gratitude in the speech on the occasion of Opening of Aga Khan Museum & The Ismaili Centre on Friday 12th September, 2014 in the presence of Prime Minister Right Honourable Stephen Harper.