Sonja Bata, the founder of the Bata Shoe Museum, has been collecting shoes since the 1940s. Mrs. Bata’s hobby began while traveling on business trips around the world with her husband, Mr. Thomas J. Bata. While her husband attended business meetings for his company, the Bata Shoe Company, Mrs. Bata was shopping for traditional footwear.
By the late 1970s, Mrs. Bata’s shoe collection grew too large for her private storage space. To accommodate her growing footwear collection, Mrs. Bata’s family decided to establish the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation, an organization dedicated to footwear research and a place where Mrs. Bata could share all her beloved shoes.
The extensive collection was on display at various offices in Toronto before moving to its present location in 1995. Designed by architect Raymond Moriyama, the museum building is shaped like an open shoe box, and is meant to reflect the notion of a museum as a “container.” Indeed, the museum contains over 12,500 pairs of shoes that span 4,500 years of history, making it the world’s largest collection of shoes and footwear-related objects.
The museum’s tagline, “For the Curious,” seems appropriate for its visitors, given that the comprehensive collection ranges from Sixteenth-century Venetian velvet platforms to Elvis Presley’s famous “blue suede shoes.” Exhibitions have included French artist Thierry Agnone’s paper shoes, “The Charm of Rococo: Femininity and Footwear of the 18th Century,” as well as “Bound for Glory: Cutting-Edge Winter Sports Footwear.”
Mrs. Bata insists that her shoe collection is more about history than mere aesthetics. Throughout each exhibit, the shoes on display present a story about the region from which they came. The shoes not only indicate simple truths – such as a region’s climate or the style of the period – but Mrs. Bata argues that, viewed chronologically, they can also signify a society’s shifts in technological development or changes in the attitudes and values of the time.