Sonja Bata, founder of Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, dead at 91
Sonja Bata, footwear collector and philanthropist, died on Tuesday at age 91
Collector and philanthropist Sonja Bata, whose collection of global footwear treasures formed the basis of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, has died.
The museum's acting director Sheila Knox says Bata passed away on Tuesday evening at Toronto Western Hospital, surrounded by friends and family. She was 91.
Bata began collecting footwear in the 1940s, and her fascination with design and history led to a collection of more than 13,000 artifacts chronicling 4,500 years of history.
Born in Zurich, Switzerland to a prominent family of lawyers, Bata studied architecture until meeting Czech-Canadian Thomas Bata, the heir of a global shoe manufacturing and retail empire.
The two wed in 1946 and the young woman soon joined her husband on business trips around the world, developing a passion for collecting rare and traditional footwear along the way.
She is credited with creating the most comprehensive collection of historic footwear in the world, and building the Bata Shoe Museum into a world-renowned institution in downtown Toronto.
'She never did stop collecting'
"When she had about 1,500 pairs of shoes in her basement, a friend of hers who was an anthropologist took a look at them and said, 'You know, these really are museum worthy. They're not being worn very much or at all anymore; they're not made anymore. You really should have them kept properly and safely in a museum setting.' And that was in 1979 when she decided to found the museum," Knox said.
The last pair of shoes she bought was 18th Century women's shoes, which are heeled footwear, made with green and red fabric, with latches on the sides.
"She always said that her favourite shoe in the collection was the one that she mostly recent acquired," she said. "She saw the unique possibilities of showing her collection and showing how much you can learn about people from what they wear on their feet."
Described as warm, kind, generous
Knox said Bata was warm, kind, generous and an "incredible role model" who strove for excellence and was curious about many different subjects. She collected shoes from around the world, including in Africa and Asia.
"Everything she touched she wanted to exhibit design excellence," she said.
Appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in 1983, Bata was also an honorary naval captain for more than 24 years.
She also devoted her time to and held leadership roles in the National Design Council, World Wildlife Fund Canada, Council for Business and the Arts in Canada, and Junior Achievement.
Knox said there will be a private service and no funeral. The museum will honour her memory in some way in the coming weeks but no arrangements have been made.
With files from CBC News