Imelda Marcos doesn't have anything on Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum. That's
because while she owned about 1,500 pairs of shoes, more than 12,000 shoes are
on display in the museum, some of which were worn as long as 4,500 years
Elton John's silver and red platform boots are among the most popular
exhibits at the Bata Shoe Museum.
Photos courtesy of the Bata Shoe Museum
While many who stroll through the museum are shoe fanatics, history buffs
are also enthralled by the museum.
Visitors learn that shoes are not just a fashion statement, but a
reflection of local culture, society, religious views, and social status.
The museum features shoes worn by popes, sports stars, rock musicians, and
royalty throughout the ages: for instance, a pair of Princess Diana's dress
shoes and Queen Victoria's ballroom slippers are on display, as are the
ceremonial shoes of Pope Leo XIII and the sprinting shoes of Olympic
gold-medal winner Harry Jerome.
Some of the more popular exhibits include Elton John's silver and red
platform boots from 1973, Marilyn Monroe's red-leather pumps, and John
Lennon's "Beatle boots" from the early 1960s.
Some of the museum's oldest footwear includes wooden sandals from about
2,500 B.C., which were designed to take those who had died on a journey into
There is also a collection of shoes worn by members of indigenous tribes in
North America, the Arctic, and Russia. Alaska natives, for example, wore boots
made of seal skin. Socks worn inside the boots were usually made of woven
According to the Bata Museum Web site, it was only in the 14th century that
shoes began to be constructed from "quality textiles and fine
leathers" and became a form of aesthetic expression and a new way to
display social status.
Pointed-toe shoes were one of the first trends in shoe design and appeared
in 14th century Poland. As the trend swept across Europe, "Edicts were
proclaimed limiting the length of the toe," according to the Web
Museum founder Sonja Bata began collecting shoes as a hobby in the late
1940s while traveling around the world on business trips with her husband, an
international shoe manufacturer, and had "personal contact with most of
the great stars of shoe design," she has said. In 1979, she founded the
Bata Shoe Museum Foundation to manage her growing collection of shoes and
sponsor research on the role that shoes have played through history.
The museum is not only known for its shoes, but its architecture.
Architect Raymond Moriyama designed the museum, which opened in 1995.
The museum looks a little like a shoebox with its lid resting slightly
askew, which is no accident.
Moriyama is quoted as saying, "When I first viewed the collection [of
shoes], I was impressed by the array of shoe boxes that protected the shoes
from light and dust."
Two of the museum's outer walls angle inward from roof to sidewalk.
At the museum's entrance, a glass wedge protrudes through the building's
limestone and enables passersby to see the lobby, five-story steel staircase,
and a 42-foot high window in the rear of the building.
Visitors usually begin their tour with the exhibit "All About Shoes:
Footwear Through the Ages," which gives an overview of shoes that have
been worn through different periods of history.
The exhibit "Icons of Elegance: Influential Shoe Designers of the
20th Century" features the shoes of Salvatore Ferragamo, Manolo Blahnik,
and Christian Louboutin, among others.
The award-winning "Beads, Buckles, and Bows: Four Hundred Years of
Embellished Footwear" features 300-year-old Italian dress shoes made of
apple-green-colored silk, embroidered ankle boots from 19th century France,
and ornately beaded Italian heels from a more modern time, the late 1960s.
This exhibit explains how sequins were once made out of beetle wings, fish
scales, or mother of pearl. Nowadays, sequins are decorative but were once
worn to repel evil and promote fertility, according to museum literature.
Another exhibit opening in March will feature the shoes of Chinese children
throughout the ages.
The Bata Shoe Museum is located at 327 Bloor Street West. More
information is posted at<www.batashoemuseum.ca/>.▪