I somehow mistakenly believed that Toronto was a mid-size Midwestern Canadian city, provincial in nature. I was surprised to find a booming, sprawling metropolis filled with new high rise resident towers and cranes atop steel carapaces all around the City, capturing the view over Lake Ontario. There is a wonderful mix of old and new, maintaining historic brick buildings at street level, interspersing modern sculpture in pocket parks and pedestrian walkways, and overshadowed by glassy towers including CN, at one time the tallest tower in the world. As you would imagine, the traffic is terrible due to construction and density. The other surprise was the cultural diversity in Toronto, especially showcased at the Caribana Festival. This is in no way like the U.S. Midwest; what was I thinking?
We walked the dog through a few Arts Districts in the City, finding sub-standard croissants and closed galleries on this civic holiday, so we bee-lined for the magnet drawing us to Toronto: THE BATA SHOE MUSEUM. We first learned of this museum in St. John’s, Newfoundland from the “Roaring 20’s” exhibit at The Rooms, where the gorgeous shoes popular with “The Flappers” were showcased.
The history of shoes at the Bata Shoe Museum starts with a casting of footprints (found by Mary Leaky in Tanzania) from the era of our ancestors, Australopithecus africanus, of whom “Lucy” (casting of skull shown below from the Signal Hill Museum in Newfoundland) is our oldest humanoid skeletal remains.
World culture expressed through footwear is the theme of the permanent shoe exhibit, exploring arctic, jungle, desert, and mountain applications, ancient and modern, Eastern and Western, and focusing on decorative arts and function. The Northamerican Moccasin exhibit showcased stunning beadwork.
All because Sonja Bata, after marrying a man with a shoe factory, traveled the world collecting shoes, tools, and documenting the craft of shoemaking in each culture, beginning with the Maasai in Kenya (featured image).
Starting from the first rubber soled mass production shoe, the same Keds we grew up wearing, and providing an alter for my worship: Roger Federer’s tennis shoes with the red clay stuck to them.
We really enjoyed the “Rise of Sneaker Culture”, an exhibit which persuasively showed the impact of hip-hop music on the shoe industry. The greatest focus was the fashion impact of the band RUN DMC which made unlaced white leather high tops de riguer, but the majority of the shoes were the Prada/Gucci/Jimmy Choo/Vera Wang designer versions of the sneaker. It made me recall Carrie Bradshaw’s response to a robbery, where she was willing to hand over her jewelry, her wallet, her life, as she wailed, “Take anything you want, but p-le-a-s-e don’t take my Jimmy Choo’s”.
These Prada “wingtips” are hilarious. It prodded us to enjoy trying on shoes in the museum “play area”. Phew! Steven finally found his blue suede shoes so we could dance out of Toronto with style!
Nearby, we enjoyed a private tour of the ROADTREK factory in Kitchener, Ontario where our small, city-parkable RV was built. We expected a Detroit-style assembly line and instead found individual vehicles being driven from station to station. They are brought in as new cargo vans, and the first job is to replace the standard gas tank with a one liter tank, to decrease flammability risk in the small, open facility. Next, the top is peeled off like a sardine can, holes are cut for side windows and floor systems (think gravity based grey and black water holding) and then the 8 week building process begins: application of the aerodynamic tall roof, building and installation of the best cabinets in the RV business, and water/gas/electric/solar/propane/sewage system installation before painting and reinstallation of the standard gas tank. After final testing, it drives out for delivery as each RV is based on a custom order. We now understand why these rigs cost over $100,000 new, and maintain their value; the priority is to keep them light enough to give us the 17-21 mpg that we enjoy…with all of the comforts of home. We also enjoyed seeing the very secret “Prototype”…sleek. Needless to say, no cameras were allowed on site so we can’t spill the beans, but we will say, we drooled over the improvements.