A passionate collector, philanthropist, world traveller and business leader, Sonja Bata dedicated her life to learning and discovery.
Born in Zurich, Switzerland to a prominent family of lawyers, Sonja Bata (née Wettstein) pursued higher education in architecture. Her academic career was soon interrupted by her engagement and wedding to the heir of a global shoe manufacturing and retail empire Czech‐Canadian Thomas Bata when she was not yet 20 years of age.
After her marriage in 1946, Sonja passionately devoted her time and energies to support her husband in rebuilding the family business. The Bata Shoe Organization had suffered greatly by the war and communist nationalization of the company in many Eastern European countries, including Czechoslovakia where the family and shoe business originated.
Working side by side with Thomas, Sonja Bata travelled the world contributing to consolidating and expanding the shoe business in Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Oceania. Her competence and passion for design allowed her to grow her professional role within the company, becoming an invaluable business partner for her husband.
When she took up residence in Toronto, she embraced her new Canadian life with pride and enthusiasm. Her love for business, the arts, design, the environment, and her strong civic duty inspired her to engage in her new country’s life through a vast array of volunteer and philanthropic projects. Her strong belief that in a democratic country citizens should actively contribute their talents to community needs is reflected in her many pursuits. The National Design Council, World Wildlife Fund Canada, Junior Achievement, Council for Business and the Arts in Canada, were just a few of the many organizations where she played a leading role. Sonja Bata was a stern advocate of the Canadian Armed Forces and took tremendous pride in her role as Honorary Naval Captain of the HMCS Ottawa.
She was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada and received a Silver Medal from the United Nation’s Environmental Program, among many other awards and honours bestowed upon her by Canadian and International institutions.
While travelling around the world on shoe business, she soon developed a passion for collecting rare and traditional footwear from every corner of the world. Her fascination with ethnography, design and history soon led her to amass a vast number of extraordinary shoes. This was the birth of what was to become the most comprehensive collection of historic footwear in the world, now housed in the Bata Shoe Museum, a unique cultural gem and world‐renowned institution in the heart of Toronto. The beautifully designed building on the corner of Bloor and St. George Streets reflects the vision of its founder who looked at shoes as a way to understand culture, anthropology, craftsmanship and ingenuity. Sonja Bata often called her collection of more than 13,000 shoes her children as she had handpicked each pair with love and care. A true collector who found great joy in the act of sharing her finds with others, she was particularly fond of the education and community‐building role of her museum.
Sonja Bata passed away on February 21st, 2018. As the Founder of the Bata Shoe Museum, Sonja Bata avidly raised the international profile of the Museum to become a world-renowned institution dedicated to the scholarship of footwear history. We will greatly miss her vision, her passion, her curiosity and her leadership.