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In and Around
Chinatown & the Bata Shoe Museum
Toronto Canada
Frances Spiegel - Click to Enlarge

By Frances Spiegel 

The Bata Shoe Museum is one of Toronto's newer museums and close to St George Subway Station.

The museum, designed by Raymond Moriyama won a City of Toronto Urban Design Award in 1995. 

If you stand on the opposite side of the road you can see that Moriyama's futuristic five-story structure resembles a lidded shoebox and looks more like a large sculpture than a building.

If you're interested in shoes and fashion history then this is the place to visit. The museum is reputed to house one of the largest collections of shoes and shoe-related objects spanning some 4,500 years of history, including the personal collection of the Bata family, numbering some 10,000 items. 

Several interactive displays explore the history of shoe and boot making, including a comprehensive feature on the role of shoes in weddings, funerals and religious ceremonies, from virtually every culture in the world. In addition you can see a plaster cast of the first human footprints discovered in Africa, believed to date back to 4 million BC. You can also see Chinese silk shoes for binding feet, moon boots, 14th century medieval footwear retrieved from Britain and Holland, as well as an in depth examination of 19th century women's shoes.

Exhibits are enhanced by prints, paintings, sculptures and lithographs, and pottery items such as leg-shaped perfume containers from Greece, and bronze lamps resembling sandal-clad feet from the Roman era.

Shoes belonging to the rich and famous enjoy a very special pride of place.  On display are Queen Victoria's satin shoes with matching gloves and silk stockings, John Lennon's Beatle boot, Elvis Presley's blue and white patent leather loafers, to name but a few.

Native American footwear is particularly well represented with examples gathered from Lapland, the Northwest Territories, Siberia, Greenland, Alaska and Labrador.

Once you have fully explored the museum take some time out to explore nearby Chinatown.

Chinatown is one of many districts of Toronto that make it such a vibrant city. This fascinating area, where the street signs are printed in a Chinese dialect, stretches westwards along Dundas Street from Bay Street to Spadina Avenue, as well as north and south along Spadina Avenue.

Stores sell exotic Chinese preserves like lemon ginger, cuttlefish, ginseng, and whole mango. Every other shop seems to be either a restaurant or a shop selling fruits and vegetables. There are also shops specializing in Asian tapes, records, and books, fashion shops selling oriental clothing, and plenty of unusual ethnic gift shops.

A colorful area of Chinatown to visit is Kensington Market. The market is hidden away in a maze of little streets just west of Chinatown with College Street to the north and Dundas Street to the south. Looking at the various stalls made me feel very hungry.

The original market dates back to the 1790s when the British settled in Toronto, or York, as it was called then. Some of the street names, Wales Avenue, Oxford Street, are reminders of the early British occupancy in the area. Since then the area has been the focal point for many different cultures. In the early 1900s 80 percent of Toronto's Jewish community lived here and there may have been as many as 25 or 30 synagogues in the area.

By the 1950s the area had become increasingly ethnically diverse mainly due to immigration following World War II. This small and crowded open-air bazaar now reflects over 30 different cultural backgrounds.

The streets in this neighborhood are lined with small but brightly painted brick and timber houses that have survived since the beginning of the twentieth century. Perhaps it was the abundance of affordable housing that attracted immigrants to the area.

The market splits into two halves. The lower half sells mainly adults' and children's clothing. Stalls and shops sell some new but mostly second-hand, or should I say, "vintage" clothing. In addition, factory outlets offer leather goods and at least one furniture shop sells, mostly, second-hand furniture.

In the upper half of the market shops and stalls have colorful displays of fresh produce, exotic fruits and vegetables, spices, nuts and pulses. One shop sells nothing but cheese of every kind from all over the world.

With all this food on display it was not long before I went in search of a restaurant.  Chinatown offers such a culturally diverse selection of food outlets that it would be impossible for any visitor to go hungry. 

Infospot: Bata Shoe Museum
327 Bloor Street West
Subway:  St. George

Phone: 416-979 7799

Hours: 10am – 5pm, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday. 

10am – 8pm, Thursday, noon – 5pm, Sunday Closed Mondays and Statutory Holidays

Admission: (as at December 2000)  $6 for adults, $4 for students and senior citizens, $2 for children, $12 for families (2 adults, 2 children)

The first Tuesday of every month is free.

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Email:  f.spiegel@btinternet.com (Frances Spiegel)
Web: http://www.metronet.co.uk/fran 

Frances Spiegel was born in Bushey, Hertfordshire, UK, and has made London, England, her home where she lives with her husband and children. Frances writes about travel, crime fiction, autobiographical short stories, and historical theme pieces and her other interests include architecture and history. (More about this writer.)


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