Toronto’s Hidden Museum Gem: The Bata Shoe Museum

The Bata Shoe Museum is one of Toronto’s lesser known museums, but it’s a wonderful destination covering 4,500 years of history and has over a thousand shoes and related artifacts on display. Any doubts I may have had that the museum is for shoe aficionados have been forever dispelled; frankly I should have known better. Human artifacts of any kind speak volumes about the people who used them and the era they came from, and shoes are a brilliant example of how vast and varied the human experience is.

If you start at the beginning of the collection in the basement, you can follow the shoes in the museum through a historical timeline. We did this, and I highly recommend it. My daughter and I have been reading about human evolution, and I was transfixed to see the footwear of our early ancestors, shoes that somehow managed to look both makeshift and sophisticated.

The same area displays shoes from ancient civilizations, as well as shoes from various religious traditions. Here there were bear fur shoes for Japanese samurai as well as footwear made from human hair. Fascination wasn’t all that was on offer though. I don’t necessarily think of a shoe museum as an emotional place, but couldn’t contain my sadness as I stared at the tiny shoes for Chinese women and girls whose feet had been bound since infancy.

Ancient Egyptian sandals, 1500-1200 BCE
Italian red chopine, 16th century

There are several other interesting collections as well, including Native American footwear, and a range of celebrity footwear, including Queen Victoria’s ballroom slippers, Karen Kain’s ballet shoes, and Terry Fox’s running shoe. There are also several changing exhibits, with something new on offer no matter when you go.

Kamik seal skin boots from the southern Caribou Inuit region, 1986
Queen Victoria’s silk shoes, 1840

We take our kids to the ROM and AGO too and love their vastness, but the Bata Shoe Museum really was good for kids because of its manageable size – it’s possible to see the collection to your satisfaction with a few hours. We attended a tour, and our guide was wonderful with the kids. There is a lot of fascinating information for kids and adults alike, and we were all engaged. From snowshoes to spaceboots to French chestnut crushers, footwear really matters, and tells us so much about the social and cultural life of the people who wore them.

Location:
327 Bloor Street, West Toronto (click here for directions and parking info)

Regular Hours:
Monday – Wednesday, Friday & Saturday: 10:00am – 5:00pm
Thursday: 10:00am – 8:00pm
Sunday: 12:00pm – 5:00pm

Admission fees:
Adults – $14
Senior citizens (65+) – $12
Students (with ID) – $8
Children – $5 (children under 5 are free)

Smart Guide:
The Bata Shoe Museum now also offers visitors the ability to stream a smart guide to the museum using the museums free WiFi network. I didn’t get to try this but would have loved to – I’m a sucker for guided tours of any kind.

All images are from Bata Shoe Museum.

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