The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto walks us through the history of footwear, from prehistoric times to the present. It’s a fascinating look at the at the design and cultural impact of footwear, where you can stroll past Shaq’s size 23 sneakers in a showcase alongside delicate ballet slippers worn by Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev, learn how shoes became a status symbol in ancient India and China long before the days of Nike or Jimmy Choo, the importance of wooden shoes to the economic development of The Netherlands, and a lot more.
Oh, sure, I loved gawking at Liz Taylor’s silver sandals and Marilyn Monroe’s red stilettos, and the collection of Victorian porcelains depicting shoes and shoemakers. But, I was equally fascinated at seeing the evolution of footwear from the ancient Egyptians and Romans and the Native Americans we call Anasazi, even a lethal looking spiked design that looks like it could have been worn by a villain in a James Bond movie, but really is a century-old French design for crushing chestnut shells.
Who knew that artisans in ancient Turkey designed stilted sandals to create space between wearers and hot bathhouse floors, to prevent toes from getting toasted. Who knew that Converse started out producing rubber galoshes in Massachusetts in the early 1900s – before switching the uppers to canvas and calling them “sneakers”. And who knew that the design and embroidery techniques of Mongolian fabric boots, called Gotals, would be so similar to Eskimo fur boots, called Mukluks. I do now.
The Bata Shoe Museum was created by Sonia Bata. After her marriage to Canadian shoe manufacturer Thomas J. Bata, she became interested in understanding shoe making techniques around the world. Besides collecting examples from their worldwide travels, she determined to help save shoe making traditions in danger of disappearing. The museum displays her collection, and helps fund traditional shoe making programs in tiny and isolated corners of the world.
The Bata Shoe Museum is in a modern new building, an easy subway ride from downtown Toronto, across the street from the Spadina Street station. Most definitely worth a visit!
photos courtesy Bata Shoe Museum