Remembering Sonja Bata

A passionate collector, philanthropist, world traveller and business leader, Sonja Bata dedicated her life to learning and discovery.


To learn more about the life and work of Sonja Bata please click here.
Since her passing, the Bata Shoe Museum has been overwhelmed with memories, tributes and kind words about Sonja Bata.  Here are just a few:


“We’ve lost an extraordinary Canadian.  My deepest condolences to the friends and family of Sonja Bata – business leader, philanthropist and cultural force who shared her passion with Canada and the world”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (via Twitter)


“Everyone at World Wildlife Fund Canada is deeply saddened by the passing of Sonja Bata, and so grateful for her contributions to conservation in Canada. Our condolences go out to her family, colleagues, museum staff and all those who knew her. World Wildlife Fund could not have succeeded in Canada for more than 50 years without Mrs. Bata’s efforts. Her passion for the environment and her hard-working professionalism helped WWF build profile, raise millions of dollars and protect important ecosystems and species in Canada and around the world. Mrs. Bata’s legacy will last for eternity in the wildlife and wild places that will continue to thrive because of her efforts.”
Megan Leslie, president and CEO, WWF-Canada


“We are saddened to learn of the passing of Mrs. Sonja Bata and we extend our sympathy to her family, friends and colleagues from around the world. A vibrant and visionary woman, Sonja Bata took extraordinary care to ensure that the archival legacy of the Bata Shoe Company is preserved for the benefit of scholars today and for generations to come. The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at University of Toronto is privileged to have been chosen as the repository for this extensive archives, which complements  UTL collections in business, economics, labour history, and social history.”
Larry P. Alford, Chief Librarian, University of Toronto Libraries
Loryl MacDonald, University Archivist and Interim Director, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto Libraries


“It isn’t often that we can say the world was changed by this or that person who was not a head of state or major film or media star.  But, there is little question that the world of ‘shoes’ was changed forever by a person whose goal in life was to make the study of shoes a serious subject as both cultural history and art.  As the founding director of the Bata Shoe Museum back in 1994, I can say that the amazing Sonja Bata suceeded beyond her wildest dreams.  Her monumental determination and will have given the world an ‘eye-opening’ experience with the creation of her museum on Bloor Street in Toronto.  The museum has gone from strength to strength and is now recognized around the world as a place to be inspired and educated about shoes. I want to add my voice to the tens of thousands of people who have experienced her gift to the world, The Bata Shoe Museum.  Thank you.
Edward Maeder
Director, The Bata Shoe Museum 1994-1997
Research Associate, Theatre Department
Smith College, Northampton, MA 01064
Guest Curator, The New-York Historical Society


“I worked ten years at this amazing museum. No museum experience, no education, no qualifications, but I wanted to give tours in a museum so I volunteered almost full time for a year. When the BSM finally opened its own building they pretty much had to hire me.
I will always remember Mrs Bata for giving me a chance. I loved working there and telling people I had a cool job.
The day I was hired I asked Mrs Bata if she’d call my parents and give them the news and she was absolutely tickled to do so. And mum and dad were thrilled to hear from her.
You’d think that opening an architectural masterpiece, the hot new cultural destination in town, and the culmination of a life’s work would make a lady want to pick out the perfect dress for the gala opening. Mrs Bata was crazy busy that week, so she just popped down the street to Chanel and bought a stunning beaded jacket to wear with some trousers and a top she already had. (my friend Philip and I wore miniature shoes glued to our heads – she never forgot it).
She looked absolutely smashing but I sensed she was not all that wowed by what she herself had accomplished. To her, I guess it was no big deal.
Well, SIB, it was a big deal, and I am forever grateful that you took a chance with me and let me be a part of it. Sonja Bata, extraordinary lady with an extraordinary life.”
Robert Barron
Education Assistant, Bata Shoe Museum 1995-2005



“I have been a supporter (and government arts funder) of the extraordinary work undertaken by the Bata Museum for a number of year.  At the heart of this work (and at many events this was quite literally true) was Sonja Bata, who I had the pleasure to meet and hear speak on many occasions.  Her dedication and passion were so clear, and I have no doubt it will live on at BSM, though she will be deeply missed by us all.  My thoughts are with her family and the entire staff and friends of the Bata Shoe Museum during this difficult time.”
Andrew Shaver


“In 1991 while rethinking my career, I ran into Sonja Bata. After listening to my plans, she said: “We should talk. Come see me at Bata Headquarters on Wynford Drive.”
Thus began my involvement with Sonja’s museum of international footwear. The “talk” led to a contract as project manager to develop the Bata Shoe Museum at the Colonnade on Bloor Street. I have always loved shoes, but I had never focused on what footwear actually meant — culturally, historically, occupationally, technologically, or personally. Sonja’s tour of the collection offered an introductory crash course, which, fortunately for me, was explained and reinforced by her curator, Jonathan Walford, and conservators, Saundra Reiner Moffatt and Ada Hopkins. Together with the design firm of Reich + Petch we opened Sonja’s museum by the spring of 1992! This temporary home became the prototype for the future Moriyama designed museum.
Over the next decade and a half I was involved with seven exhibitions for the Bata Shoe Museum. Sonja was one of the most challenging, involved and supportive bosses I have ever had. She would not be rushed to make decisions until she was ready and fully convinced it was the right decision. Once decided, she never shied away from implementing a good idea. For example, although she disliked the idea of an “unfinished” gallery, she indulged my insistence on leaving a bare concrete floor so visitors would appreciate the hard surfaces the wearers of northern Canadian kamiks experienced. She also approved the taxidermy of a caribou to provide an arresting vista for that exhibition.
She instantly understood why room-size displays featuring exceptional Chinese furniture would offer the perfect context for an exhibition about shoes for Chinese women with bound feet where object sizes ranged from 4 ½ to 6 inches. She did not flinch at the costs for bringing a fine art transport of Ming dynasty furniture together with its conservator from a private collection in Boston, or trucking additional furniture pieces, including a sedan chair, from a dealer’s warehouse in North York.
Sonja always talked about the power of shoes to inspire our imaginations and to make us truly empathetic to people from diverse situations, time periods and climates. For her the metaphorical “walking a mile in another’s shoes” took on an amazingly ambitious mission that built an internationally acclaimed shoe collection, commissioned studies of traditional footwear-making around the world, supported research, exhibitions and publications, engaged the best people to assist and founded a museum that shares her vision with the world.
Accompanying Sonja on her quest to build a museum for shoes inspired some my most imaginative display and interpretative work.
I never walked a mile in Sonja’s shoes, but I have been extremely fortunate to stand beside her sensible pumps and listen and learn.”
John E. Vollmer
New York City


“I am very fortunate to have known Sonja Bata and to have worked with her as an Architect collaborator over the past 3 years.
My studio, Thomas Payne Architect, was engaged with the Batawa Development Corporation and the Dalton Company in the project to reenergize / reimagine Batawa, the Bata Family’s legacy Ontario utopian garden town.
Our work envisioned exciting layers of new building, landscape and civic space, with an eye to reanimating the town with new sustainable and artistic elements, all respectful of the origins of the garden community and its unique place in Canada’s history.
It was an inspiration to work with Mrs. Bata, a remarkable woman in every way; vital and illuminating to the end.”
Thomas Payne


A personal memory of the great Sonja Bata: I was reporting from a UNHCR tent school in Kandahar back in 2007 the day a surprise truckload of children’s shoes arrived. A brand new pair for every kid! Sonja’s donation brought pandemonium and pure joy. #RIP
Lisa LaFlamme (via Twitter)


“Sonja Bata was an incredible force in the Canadian museum world. She was knowledgeable and always eager to listen and learn. She constantly questioned the details of displays to understand why artifacts were located where they were and if the conservation challenges had been appropriately met and how this was achieved. Her background in architecture and design gave her authority that was never swayed by the latest trends but by classical modernism that had also to meet the practicalities of life, work and function.  The shoe is an endless study in the fusion of design and function and she relished the fascinating possibilities for solutions. She created a remarkable collection that is an international jewel. She undertook all her activities with determination, a spirit of adventure and consulate professionalism. When I spoke with in the late 1980s about her about her wardrobe she recalled her Dior’s and how they made her feel and the power they instilled in her to move freely in her world – and she did – always cognizant and committed to her various ambassadorial roles that she undertook with consummate professionalism and elegance.

I raise a high-heeled slipper of champagne to her, her colleagues and her cherished family.

She is missed and leaves us with a rich legacy.

Thank you Sonja”

Alexandra Palmer


“Farewell my friend and colleague–a force for Nature. Thank you for your leadership, your grace and for everything you did for WWF and for wildlife in Canada…and beyond.”
Monte Hummel, President Emeritus, WWF-Canada


“With fond memories…

The Bata legacy will now transition into its next phase.

I am proud to have been fortunate enough to participate in a small was to see that the vision Sonja had for the former factory come to fruition

This building will provide a living legacy for those residents who will occupy this wonderful space.

She was a truly memorable inspirational lady.”

Doug King



“To the Bata Shoe Museum , Family and Staff

We feel very privileged to have met Sonja personally in Europe , and we are proud to know that the Moccasin Collection she has acquired from us has found a permanent home in the Bata Shoe Museum .

Mrs. Sonja Bata will be missed around the world .

Our sincere heartfelt condolences.”

Dr. Dietmar Mueller

Mrs. Erika de Lorenzi


“May God rest your soul, dear Mrs. Bata, and may you rest in peace…you are now with your husband.

I remember warmly when Mrs. Bata was looking for a location to build her dream, the Bata Shoe Museum, and how elated we were when the location was found and construction started.  I was at the Bata Shoe Head Office, on Wynford Drive, Don Mills, at the time, where I worked for 31 years for the CEO and the Bata Family.

With Mrs. Bata leaving us, an era will now come to a close…..but will, nevertheless, remain immortal with the beautiful Bata Shoe Museum standing high and strong to the admiration of the world.”

Anne-Marie Paraghamian and Family


“So very saddened to learn of the passing of the incomparable Sonja Bata. Her beloved @batashoemuseum is a global cultural treasure, and Sonja herself was grace, dignity and charm personified. #RIPSonjaBata Canada has lost a cherished treasure.”

Jeanne Beker (via Twitter)



“I was very sorry to learn the news of the death of Sonja Bata.

I would like to offer my sincere condolences to all at the Bata Shoe Museum.

Here is a little rhyme I wrote for her:

Remember Sonja Bata, she loved shoes!

She had so many, she knew just what to do!

She built a big museum and historical display,

Where everyone can see them to this very day!”

Sally Jaeger


“It was always a pleasure to be in the same room with Mrs. Bata when she would attend the Volunteer Events…full of charm and wit and dedication .  What an inspiration to so many.

A life well lived.”

Shirley Richardson


“Its  saddening  to hear that Mrs Sonja Bata is no more. Our deepest condolences.

She was a great personality,  whom I met first time 47 years ago. She was a great woman to be admired. She inspired people around her to think differently and always added value with her critical observations. I deeply enjoyed her presence in the shoe-line reviews during my 25 years tenure with the company.

She was a great philanthropist and her contributions to the  upliftment of the poor , her association  with Mother Theresa are fresh in our memory.

Her biggest contribution together with her husband and family was to make efforts to ensure that people did not walk barefoot. The shoe industry of India owes a great lot to the Bata family for its growth and sustainability. The global footwear Industry owes to salute her  for the Shoe Museum which she has so assiduously  built  at Toronto.

My first interaction started with her in 1978, as a key co-ordinator for managing the logistics at Bombay on her arrival from Toronto. It was also a pleasure to meet her in your Villa at Toronto when you hosted a dinner for ‘Mermanco’ partipants in 1987 and on various other review meetings.

Its difficult to believe that she is no more. She encouraged  others to be the best people they could be, and that’s reflected in your life.”

J B Shetty


“Mrs. Bata was a wonderful person and will be tremendously missed by everyone. I greatly admired her determination, passion, and enthusiasm for learning. She will always remain a great inspiration for me.

Volunteering at the Bata Shoe Museum has been a big part of my life. I have made great friends, learned invaluable skills, and discovered a passion for history and material culture that has given my life direction. All of this would not have been possible without Mrs. Bata’s vision. By collecting footwear, she preserved parts of history that would have otherwise been lost and opened our minds to new ways of thinking about every day objects.

Mrs. Bata has left a wonderful legacy with the Bata Shoe Museum that will continue to touch people’s lives. My thoughts are with her family during this difficult time.”

Fiona Kovacaj


“I only met Mrs. Bata once at the museum, but the meeting left an indelible impression of a woman who was thoroughly focused on what she was doing, that is, collecting shoes and their stories.  And that is the legacy she has left for Toronto.  We owe her a debt of gratitude for that.”

Elka Weinstein
Senior Program Advisor
Ontario Region/Dept. of Canadian Heritage




If you would like to share your thoughts and memories about Sonja Bata, please email for inclusion in our online memorial.  If you would like to make a donation to the Sonja Bata Memorial Fund, which will directly support her lasting legacy, the Bata Shoe Museum, you can do so online below or by calling 416-979-7799 x 250.