"The barmy Bata Shoe Museum" Bata Shoe Museum Tip by CatherineReichardt

Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto: 14 reviews and 24 photos

  Imelda would have approved!
by CatherineReichardt
 
  • Imelda would have approved! - Toronto
      Imelda would have approved!
    by CatherineReichardt
  • - Toronto
 

(work in progress)
Let me prefix this tip by stating thatI believe that the world is split into two types of women: those who regard Imelda Marcos as a worthy role model (and would at least consider selling their loved ones into slavery for the prospect of a pair of Jimmy Choos) and those who loathe and detest shoes and would rather spend the rest of their lives in bare feet, donning slippers only for special occasions.

I fall squarely in the latter category, but despite that, I absolutely adored this museum, which is not just simply quirky, but verges on the barking mad ... in fact, I liked it so much that I think that it would make my personal Top 10 of small museums worldwide.

Firstly, a little historical context. The founder of Bata footwear, Tomas Bata, came from a long line of cobblers, but had a particularly entrepreneurial spirit and established his first shoe factory in Zlin (now in the Czech Republic) at the end of the nineteenth century. The demand for footwear in the first World War spurred him into mass production, and as a result, several dozen of his shoe factories sprung up across what was to become Czechoslovakia.

Like other industrial tycoons of the Industrial Revolution, he decided to use his wealth and influence to undertake social engineering in order to uplift his workforce. His credo was "Act collectively, live individually", and in order to realise this vision, he built new towns and infrastructure for his workforce and provided social welfare to his employees and their families. He must have been a fascinating man, and I think that in some point in the future, I would like to trace his legacy on his 'home turf'.

After his death in a plane crash in 1932, the company continued the international expansion that Tomas had initiated. Although the Czechoslovak assets (which had been operated by Bata's half brother after his death) were nationalised under the post-war communist regime, Bata's son moved to Canada and established the company's Canadian manufacturing base in Battawa, Ontario.

The Bata Shoe Museum was established by Tomas Bata's daughter-in-law, Sonja, in 1979 to house her amazing personal collection of footwear, and moved to its current purpose-built location in 1998. The museum contains little about the family history, and is instead dedicated to the history of footwear and footwear-related paraphernalia.

The museum building by Raymond Moriyama is stunning - admittedly not to my architectural taste, but absolutely perfect for the purpose - and the exhibits are beautifully displayed. Obviously only a small fraction of the museum's collection is on show at any one time, but in addition to the permanent exhibits, there are temporary themed exhibits, so check the website below to see what's on at the time of your visit.

This is one of those rare museums that offers something for just about everyone - male or female, young or old, fashionista or just morbidly fascinated by the discomfort some people will go to in order to remain 'on trend'. My feet ached just to look at some of the items - and that was long before I got to the exhibit on foot binding!

Some obvious crowd pleasers are the celebrity items, such as shoes that formerly belonged to Elvis and vertiginous platforms previously owned by Elton, Marilyn's red stilettoes and a pair of Napoleon's silk socks - their celebrity status merely endorsed by the fact that the owners are all instantly recognisable by their first names! However, for me, the highlights were the exquisitely beaded Native American collection and a pair of lethal looking clogs armed with 10cm long spikes on the soles, which were apparently used in 19th century France to release tannic acid from chestnuts for tanning animal hides. Impressively obscure!!!

In terms of planning your visit, the museum is not large, but the exhibits are so interesting that I would allow yourself a couple of hours to do it justice.

If you have time to only do one thing in Toronto, let it be this - it's really that good!

Phone: +1 416-979-7799
Website: http://www.batashoemuseum.ca/

Review Helpfulness: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated May 5, 2012
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CatherineReichardt

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