These Shoes Are Made for Walking

At the Bata Shoe Museum, you can stroll through 4,500 years of footwear history, ranging from ancient Egyptian sandals to the modern artistic creations of Manolo Blahnik

If you love shoes, it’s well worth a walk in your favourite footwear to the Bata Shoe Museum (BSM). Housed in the elegant Raymond Moriyama-designed building at Bloor Street and St. George, the museum is centrally located and easy to get to by taxi, ride share service, transit or on foot (depending on where you are).

The $14 admission gives you access to the world’s largest collection of shoes and footwear-related objects. In its four galleries, BSM offers more than 1,000 pieces from its collection, covering 4,500 years of shoe history, ranging from Chinese silk shoes and ancient Egyptian sandals to chestnut-crushing clogs and glamorous platforms.

Among most crowd-pleasing exhibits is a wide selection of celebrity footwear, including Queen Victoria’s ballroom slippers, Robert Redford’s cowboy boots and Elton John’s monogrammed silver platform boots. Also on display are Terry Fox’s running shoe, Elvis Presley’s blue patent loafers, Karen Kain’s ballet shoes and John Lennon’s Beatle boot.

However, it is the current special exhibit, Manolo Blahnik: The Art of Shoes (on until January 6, 2019), that drew Wengage marketing associate Nikki Swerhun to her first visit to BSM.

“I’ve been a huge fan of Manolo Blahnik, since I was in school, doing fashion design and merchandising,” she says. “I used to use his sketches as inspiration, so I definitely wanted to see the exhibit while it was in Toronto.”

And she was not disappointed in the display from the acclaimed Spanish fashion designer (and founder of the eponymous high-end shoe brand) and his more than 45 years of work.

“His shoes are so artful and his sketches are amazing, so they’ve put together an incredible exhibit not only showcasing the artistry but also being really informative,” she says. “For example, they actually had a shoe completely deconstructed and showed the whole process of what went into its making.”

Nikki also enjoyed her walk through the museum’s semi-permanent exhibit (pieces are rotated from its archived collection of more than 13,000 shoes and related artifacts), especially noting the kinds of uncomfortable footwear that women have had to contend with throughout history, including Chinese bound-foot shoes.

“It’s food for thought,” she says. “Now when I put on my Nikes at home, I feel spoiled and comfortable.”

The museum is open seven days a week, from 10 am to 5 pm. As far as crowds, the best time to go is during the workweek. Expect to spend two or three hours tops on exploration, not a full day. While there is no café or restaurant in the museum, you will be a short walk away from some great food and some unique shopping. (see “In the Neighbourhood” below).

In the Neighbourhood

If you are going to go somewhere before or after a visit to the Bata Shoe Museum for a bite or drink, cafes, restaurants and bars abound. Here are a few to consider:

L’Espresso Bar Mercurio

This is a classic Italian European coffee house and restaurant in the heart of downtown Toronto, where university students and avid shoppers rub shoulders. It offers a great selection of house-roasted coffees with sweet treats.
321 Bloor Street West (one minute on foot).

Sorrelle & Co.

Nikki recommends this one! This restaurant’s unwavering dedication to gluten-free, soy-free, vegan, nut-free and preservative-free foods means that everything on the menu can accommodate those with specific dietary needs. According to NIkki, the mac and cheese is to die for.
161 Yorkville Avenue (nine minutes on foot)

Proof Bar

Located in the InterContinental Toronto Yorkville hotel, this is rated as one of the city’s best vodka bars, with an impressive array of options, along with bottle service, vodka-based martinis and elegant cocktails to choose from.
220 Bloor Street West (four minutes on foot)

Yorkville Village

The Yorkville area offers some of the city’s, and country’s, most upscale shopping, with high-end boutiques. Check out Marlowe. They offer a gorgeous collection with understated clean lines combining high quality cashmere knitwear with bespoke finely tailored sportswear.

Other boutiques include TNT, Belstaff, Eleventy and Jacadi, and exclusive labels from top Canadian and global fashion designers, such as Balmain, Isabel Marant, Kenzo, Yeezy, Victoria Beckham, Smythe and The Row.
Located on the northeast side of Avenue Road, just two blocks north of Bloor Street. (12 minutes on foot)