Shoes tell a story

By Lise Schofield, YWCA Toronto Manager of Marketing and Communications

YWCA Toronto’s recent Celebration of Philanthropy featured award-winning novelist Katherine Govier’s The Shoe Project, in which moving and humorous spoken stories about shoes were presented to a captivated audience.

The Shoe Project, (supported by the Bata Shoe Museum and The Mary A. Tidlund Charitable Foundation), began when Katherine met with immigrant women who visited the Bata Shoe Museum’s vaults and attended a lecture by Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack about the cultural significance of shoes.

The women discussed funeral footwear in Turkey, leather British school shoes and Russian “valenki” shoes made of stiff black felt. Through these conversations, extraordinary stories started to emerge about the significance of a single pair of shoes. The project brings their stories from around the world to Toronto audiences.

The evening’s stories about repairing flip flops in Lagos and tiny baby shoes peeking out of a blanket at the airport immigration office, gave us a glimpse into the complicated lives of newcomer women. Each of the women spoke of overcoming adversity, poverty and violence to embrace Canada as their new home. And they revealed how tucked into their hearts is still a special pair of shoes that hold meaning in their lives and their cultures.

Sayuri Takatsuki’s mother’s split-toe chika-tabi shoes for tending a rice paddy

Sayuri Takatsuki’s story about her mother’s split-toe chika-tabi shoes described the back-breaking work of tending a rice paddy and living in profound poverty.


Mariana Rocha's sandals for dancing fora

Mariana Rocha spoke of her Brazilian sandals, essential to dancing foro and the night she was shot by a stray bullet. She described her journey to Canada in her beloved leather sandals, which she had to concede just wouldn’t work in Toronto’s snow.


Elizabeth Meneses di Castillo dancing with her daughter in her first pair of flamenco shoes

Elizabeth Meneses di Castillo’s story spoke of her decision to leave Colombia after working as a journalist covering ‘gangster-dominated’ news so she could live safely and pursue her desire to be a flamenco dancer. She bought her first pair of flamenco shoes in Toronto and wore them last night to dance with her daughter.

All of the women’s stories were powerful and moving. Our thanks go out to The Shoe Project for making this year’s Celebration of Philanthropy an exciting evening of soulful sharing.

If you would like to become a member of the YWCA Toronto community and enjoy events like this, please visit our website to learn more about how you can make a difference.