Sonja Bata, Founder of Bata Shoe Museum, Dies at 91

Sonja Bata, whose lifelong passion for the history and design of footwear was realized in the creation of the Bata Shoe Museum, died on Feb. 20. She was 91.

Recognized as a collector, philanthropist and world traveler, she was instrumental in introducing the world of shoemaking and design to visitors of the Toronto museum.

It was by chance that Bata was caught up in the world of shoes. Born in Zurich, she was pursuing a degree in architecture when she became engaged and then married to Thomas Bata, heir of a global shoe manufacturing and retail empire.

After her marriage, she worked alongside her husband in rebuilding the family business, which had suffered the impact of World War II and the communist nationalization of the company in many Eastern European countries, including Czechoslovakia, where the family and shoe business launched.

While traveling on shoe business, she instinctively developed a passion for rare and traditional footwear from around the world, leading her to collect a wide array of unusual shoes. It soon became the most comprehensive collection of historic footwear in the world, now housed in the museum.

Bata’s interests, however, extended beyond the world of shoes. She was engaged in a range of volunteer philanthropic projects in her new home in Canada that included the Council of Business and the Arts in Canada and The National Design Council.

The museum houses a collection of 13,000 shoes and related artifacts, celebrating 4,500 years of footwear history.

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