The Road Trip
Bata Shoes and Their Connection with Canada
So, the road trip this weekend was to Kingston to visit our son and take him and two of his siblings snowboarding at the Batawa Ski Hill. I knew I had heard of Batawa from somewhere, so I Googled once again to jar my memory. I was quite happy (because I may have a little interest in that which is Canadian Made) to come to realize that Batawa was the creation of the Bata shoe family. The Bata Shoe Company dates to 1894 Zlin, Czechoslovakia. Europe’s first mass producers of shoes.
Bata’s head office in Zlin, (circa 1930s) was not only the second-tallest building in Europe when it was built but it had the world’s first elevator office, which allowed the founder to go from floor to floor without even leaving his desk!
The name Batawa comes from the combination of the Bata family name and the last syllable in Ottawa.
Bata cities are built throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas and many like Batawa incorporate the company name – Bataville in France, Batanager in India, Batatuba in Brazil, & Cali-Bata in Java.
In brief, Sonja Bata and husband Tomas Bata, in 1939, came to Canada with 120 workers and their families. They built a modernist factory between Toronto and Montreal to make shoes. What is even more interesting was their beliefs around social responsibility of which the town of Batawa was built on. The epitome of a true factory town the Bata Company built houses, schools, churches, sports facilities and a bit later a Post Office. They subsidized the housing to their workers and thus a community was built.
The Batawa factory was closed in 2000 and was sold to a plastics company. Thomas John Bata died at the age of 93 on September 1, 2008, at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. After his death Sonja Bata repurchased the entire 1,5oo acre site – objective being to reinvent the town again as a model of sustainable development. 2019 the factory was converted into condos, commercial spaces, and community space all while having a light environmental footprint and intentional strong social mandate.
As we drove into the community the old factory building was as beautiful as ever and as modern as if it had been built today. In 2019 it was converted into condos, commercial spaces, and community space by Sonja Bata. The town has the air of a quaint little resort with its 4 outdoor rinks, a natural playground, trails, Dino dig, and the Batawa Ski hill. Not to mention all these areas had people actively using them. It was Sunday morning and two rinks had shiny hockey games on the go with people of all ages and abilities and the other two rinks had families and people skating around for fun and fresh air. We could see, as we walked to the ski hill, that there were people on the trails and along the Dino dig exploring. When we got to the hill there were bonfires to keep parents warm while they watched their children enjoy skiing and snowboarding.
It was a good day.
I couldn’t help but to think how there are so many stories and rich history that are rooted in manufacturing.
Side Note: In case you didn’t know it there is a Bata Museum in Toronto. I’ve always been curious to go but after learning a bit more about the Bata company’s history and their outstanding commitment to social responsibility I have put this on my list of things to do.Canadian Architect - Sept 29, 2020