Sunday, January 15, 2023
Everybody wears shoes but not too many people think much about them. The Bata Shoe Museum on Bloor Street West in Toronto presents 4,500 years worth of shoe history that can take you a step in a new direction. They have about 15,000 items in their collection and have a rotating display of about 1,000 shoes. The museum is based originally on the personal collection of Sonja Bata who spent her life in the shoe industry. She amassed a large collection that went on display in a dedicated building in 1979. The footwear is displayed in a four story building that has a permanent collection of historical footwear on the bottom floor while displays on the other three floors constantly change to provide a different experience every time you visit.
The oldest known shoe was found on a 5300 year old corpse known as the Otzi Man, or Ice Man. He was still wearing one of his shoes when the mummy was found in 1991 and the museum has an exact replica.
In ancient China, among the Han peoples, it was considered that the ideal size for women’s feet was 3 inches. To achieve this the feet were bound to limit their growth.
In the 13th century, socks were often made by combining human hair with vegetable fibre. This sock was made by the ancient Puebloan culture.
Brides in India were often given footwear that was crafted in silver. These shoes were known as mules and have filigree work that incorporates vines and leaves in a motif known as chinar. They were made in the 19th century.
These paduka were unusually high and elegant and were likely worn for an important aristocratic function. The silver plating, gold toe-knobs and extreme height identify these women’s shoes as upper class and would have been worn in India in the 18th century.
These dancing shoes were made in India around 1840 and are known as mojari. The jade beads and brass bells would have created a beautiful tinkling sound as the wearer performed their dance.
Many cultures have a story similar to Cinderella and there are said to be thousands of variants around the world. The earliest version of the tale appears to have been told around the time of Christ. The shoe museum has a few pair of glass slippers that have been made over the centuries to commemorate the heroine.
Some shoes had very specific uses like this pair. These clogs from France with the spikes on the bottom were used to crack the shells of Chestnuts.
Skating became popular in Amsterdam during the Middle Ages as a means of navigating the frozen canals. Some of the earliest skates were made from the long shinbones of deer. The old Dutch word for skate is “schenkel” which means “leg bone”.
North American indigenous peoples had created a range of footwear to suit the various environments in which they lived. The museum represents their footwear with several pieces including this colourful recreation of boots with Metis artwork on them.
Space boots were made of layered, Teflon-coated materials to protect the wearer from UV rays and temperature fluctuations. This boot was made in 1970 for Jim Lovel as a spare for his Apollo space mission.
Mushroom leather is a modern invention that is created using the middle layer of the tinder sponge. This polypore mushroom grows on dead or weak birch and beech trees and can be used to make a material that is suitable for shoemaking. This allows the creation of shoes that look like leather but don’t contain any animal by-products.
Adult admission to the museum is only $14.00 and it makes a very interesting and educational place to spend an afternoon.
Google Maps Link: Bata Shoe Museum
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Wow, just amazing shoes
My friend worked as a museum technologist for Mrs. Bata when she was making the switch from home to a museum. That was around 1979-1980. My friend admired the shoes greatly. There was talk of building a permanent location for the shoes. I am happy to see the museum is in central Toronto.