Ontario's Cottage Country—essentially everything from an hour to five hours ouside of town—is a vast expanse of land and waterscapes. Marked variously by forests, farms, villages, wilderness, beaches, canals, rustic cabins… and strangely, wonderfully enough, a re-envisioned Modernist shoe factory, now remade as a remarkable mid-sized apartment building surrounded by getaway country… in Batawa.
Batawa? That's a name that won't be familiar to all, but to others it may be legendary: Batawa is a former factory town on the Trent River and Canal a few kilometres north of the 401 at Trenton, about an hour or so east of Toronto, depending on where you're driving from.
The town quickly came into existence in 1939 when Thomas Bata, son of the Bata shoe company's founder, fled Nazi aggression in Europe, bringing 100 Czech families with him. Purchasing 25 adjacent properties by the Trent River in Eastern Ontario, Bata built homes for his workers with they could rent at reasonable rates, just a couple minutes walk from the shoe factory. By the mid-1940s the town had 300 homes and 1,000 residents while the factory employed about 2,000. Batawa also boasted a recreation hall, schools, churches, shops, a post office, a bank, and plenty of sports and recreational infrastructure to make the outdoors fun for those who lived there.
In 1964, Bata's Canadian headquarters moved to Toronto, consolidating with a world-wide headquarters in Don Mills, where the Aga Khan complex now stands. At that point Bata operated in over 80 countries around the globe, producing about 175 million pairs of shoes annually in about 70 factories and selling them in around 5,000 stores. By the 1990s, Bata was struggling in Canada with cheaper imports, and in 2000 the Batawa factory was closed. In 2001, Bata's Canadian shoe stores were closed, and the world headquarters were moved to Lausanne, Switzerland.
Thomas Bata and his wife Sonja (she had trained as an architect) elected to stay in Toronto, however. The pair were prolific philanthropists, particularly in post-secondary education and in cultural pursuits. Sonja's collection of footwear from around the world triggered the building of the Bata Shoe Museum at Bloor and St George streets, with it opening in 1992. With production having left Batawa in 2000, Sonja was determined to reinvigorate the town—about 100 of the 300 homes remained—and find a new life for the former shoe factory.
It took years, but Sonja Bata was persistent, and while she passed away in February 2018, the re-envisioned factory was coming together, ready late that year with ground and second floor commercial spaces, and residential rental suites on floors three through five, dubbed the BatawaLofts. Interiors were totally rearranged and updated, and sealed in behind modern windows, to a design by Quadrangle and Dubbeldam Architecture + Design.
The lofts are spacious, have high ceilings, and great views of the surrounding countryside. They are available as one bedrooms from 590 to 750 ft², one bedroom + dens at 610 or 810 ft², two bedrooms from 960 to 1,250 ft², and two bedroom + dens at 1,080 or 1,220 ft².
While all suites have balconies, up top, a new terrace on the roof offers sheltered and open space to gather and take in the views of the rolling countryside and the town. The townsite of Batawa has plenty for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy with skiing on the hills and trails, three hockey rinks, and facilities for more wintertime sports, while in summer the recreational opportunities include mountain biking and hiking, a "dinosaur dig" for kids, and plenty more. The town has many social clubs, while it's a short drive from here to Sandbanks Provincial Park and Prince Edward County's wine and artisanal food producers.
This is just the start for the rejuvenation of Batawa. You can find out much more about it on the official website.
We also have additional details of the history of Batawa and Sonja Bata's plans, along with more recent images, that can be found in our dedicated thread for the project. Want to get involved in the discussion? Members can post in the thread, or you may leave a comment in the field provided at the bottom of this page.
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