Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Abandonment Issues: Bata Shoe Factory
The concept of Disneytown, USA, or any other form of corporate community is a scary thought these days. Orwellian cookie cutter corporate suburbs consuming farmland, industrial and residential areas alike. It's not just Rogers Arena or Rogers Centre, it's the city of Rogers in the township of General Motors in the province of Starbucks in the country of Nike. Our flag is a red on white swoosh, and it's on every other billboard. In 2011, that's not just a scary thought, it's a foreseeable future.
In 1939 however, a young capitalist with a social conscience envisioned just such a place. A company run town that took care of it's employees and citizens like family. A country named Canada that he had read about as a child would be the perfect place to escape the escalating tension in his homeland of Czechoslovakia, and move the operations of his company, along with 250 employees and their families. Only 120 of what he hoped would be 250 employees and their families were allowed by the Canadian government, who were resistant at first but eventually realized what benefits he would be providing to the county 9 years after the depression forced the closure of the nearby Frankford Paper Mill.
Thomas J. Bata had inherited the Bata Shoe Company from his father years before an army of German Nazis under "that rascal, Hitler" began marching across Eastern Europe. And so Mr. Bata took "a great big plunge of faith" and settled on a small valley north of the Royal Canadian Air Force base in Trenton, Ontario. The town would be called Batawa. The Bata company built homes for the employees and affordable rent was deducted from pay cheques. Eventually employees were offered the opportunity to purchase the homes for a mere dollar. The new immigrant Czech workers were experienced executives and skilled electricians, engineers and machine operators. They were taught the English language as they were teaching newly hired locals the shoe-making process in the abandoned Paper Mill to the south in Frankford, as the factory was being constructed.
During the war, Mr. Bata offered the use of the factory and its employees to the Canadian government. It was mostly women working these shifts, the wives of R.C.A.F. officers. For the war efforts, more than 48 special items were produced here, including torpedo gyroscopes, primers for anti-tank shells and naval gun mountings. By 1944 the plant had over a thousand employees.
The Bata family has maintained this relationship with the Canadian military to this day, with Thomas J's widow Sonja Bata even allowing access of the abandoned factory to the military for training purposes. The police and local fire fighters also train here, and even have their own keys. The Batawa plant struggled through the 1990s, losing $32 million, and it closed in 1999. The Bata factory building is not abandoned, it is still active on a daily basis with a skeleton crew stripping materials down to a concrete shell, with plans to convert the plant into condominiums. With this project, Sonja Bata hopes to ensure a future for the town that bears the family name, that is as bright as it's past.
All information and access to the building was graciously provided by sources close to the Bata family.
In on the ground floor...
The second floor...
The third floor...
The fourth floor...
The fifth floor...
Extra special thanks to the friends of the Bata family that made this visit possible. I must reiterate that while future plans of converting the building into condominiums remains in limbo, this building is not abandoned, it is still owned and cared for by the widow Bata and her staff.
Put your best foot forward my friends, and if the shoe fits, wear it.
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October 7, 2013
I recently heard word that the Bata Shoe Factory was being demolished. Until this afternoon that was but an unsubstantiated rumour, as I had been informed last year by sources close to the Bata family that the widow Bata was determined to save the historic building and convert it into condominiums.
But alas, when I pulled into Batawa today, I encountered a demo crew actively demolishing the building. The majority of the outer walls of the ground floor had already been removed, exposing the wide open stripped interior. The sounds of demolition echoed loudly and got louder and louder as I stealthily made my way inside, narrowly avoiding the demo crew at every turn. I don't know how I managed to be so lucky so often here today. Workers repeatedly turned their heads or backs at the perfect moments, allowing me to actually traverse all 5 floors and even capture some work in progress shots before I was finally spotted on the top floor and asked to leave.
Hopefully I will find the time to return once more before she is finally gone for good.
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February 2, 2014
After a day of exploring fails that saw us locked out of all three abandonments we attempted to enter yesterday, we made our way to Batawa to check the status of the demolition. We expected to come across an empty field, but much to our surprise the building was not completely gone. In fact a sign attached to the fence surrounding the remnants of the structure announced the terrific news that a restorative project is indeed under way, as was rumoured earlier.
Once again, we hope to keep checking in on the status of the project. Stay tuned.
click here to check out all of jerm & ninja IX's ABANDONMENT ISSUES