In 1939, accompanied by 100 Czech families, Thomas J. Bata emigrated from Czechoslovakia to Canada. He was the only son of Tomas Bata who had built a very large international shoe enterprise in Czechoslovakia and died in an airplane crash before the Second World War. Young Thomas decided to leave his home country a short period before the German Army marched in. After his arrival in Canada he initially bought an old paper mill in Frankford and started to manufacture shoes with the help of over 100 Czech families who had followed him to Canada.
Soon after their arrival they started to build a new factory and housing in Batawa. There were two schools, two churches and sports facilities. At a later date a Post Office and a bank were added.
In addition to the shoe factory, they also built a plant to make shoe machinery. However, during wartime the engineering plant concentrated on the war effort and made various high precision machine parts such as gyroscopes for the armed forces. By 1989, the Bata factory employed 1,500 in the shoe factory and 380 in the engineering division. It was a truly flourishing community. The wartime housing, which had been subsidized by the Bata Shoe Company, was being replaced by well-built bungalows owned by the occupants.
In the years to come the engineering division was sold to Invar, one of the Linamar companies making automotive parts, employing more than 450 people until its closure in 2010. Gradually the shoe factory reduced its production as labor costs in Canada were very high and more and more shoes were being imported, particularly from China. By the time the factory closed, the residents of Batawa found other careers but many remain in their homes in the village, keeping the spirit of a small town strong.
Many in surrounding communities still have connections with the original Czech families. There is a large group of "Batawa Kids" - people who were born in Batawa and today live all over the world - who still maintain a strong sense of kinship to Batawa.
BATAWA - CULTURAL HISTORY
Thomas J. Bata and Dr. Karel Herz set out to find 1,500 acres of land between Toronto and Montreal. They found a tract of pasture land along the Trent River valley north of Trenton. "At the time, this was a depressed area and the local municipalities did everything in their power to make us welcome," reflected Dr. Herz. "Many areas would have been suitable for a factory but quite honestly, it was the dedication of the people of the Trenton area that finally made the difference for us."
Thomas J. Bata built the community of Batawa with the intention of creating "a small, miniature Zlin, Czechoslovakia" explained Gerrit DeBruyn. On June 24, 1940, the Batawa name was selected for the new village. The name was created when a group of buyers were sitting with Thomas Bata in his Frankford cottage. A man from the Eatons department said, "Why not combine the Bata name with the last syllable of Ottawa? Batawa has a nice native sound."
The establishment of the Bata plant brought new life and activity to the communities surrounding it. The village of Frankford had suffered from the depression for almost ten years. The village had relied on its pulp and paper industry, but the mill could not survive the shocks of the great depression and closed in 1930. Some of its workers went on to work elsewhere, while others waited hoping for something to come along. Thomas Bata contributed greatly to the improvement of life for everyone in the district. In his book, The Battle of Home, Anthony Cekota writes, "The village started to live again."
In the early years, regular meetings of all members of the new community were held to discuss everything connected with its life and existence, as well as that of the company, the situation in the country and information dealing with the war. Through the meetings, the following were introduced:
- System to teach the language (English)
- System to improve the health of the people
- Lending library
- Various sporting activities
- A Sokol gymnastics association
- Daily system of news distribution
Newcomers to the community had to learn as much of the English language as it was necessary to enable them to pass on their own special working skills to the local workers, who had troubles learning new skills and developing new work habits. Night class and individual courses were organized with the help of the teachers from Frankford schools to teach the language. In school, the Czech children were able to speak English as fluently as the local children. "By Christmas of 1939, we spoke and wrote pretty good English and were placed in our appropriate grades," remembers Tony Daicar, who was one of the Czech children who came to Canada with his parents in 1939. Most adults succeeded during the first two or three years in acquiring a certain degree of fluency, enough for daily contact.
"Our health improvement was a concerted organized effort of physical fitness - a prevention approach," recalls Tony Daicar. In Czechoslovakia, the Bata Shoe Company had a total medical coverage health plan. Some form of it was established in Batawa. "Dr. David McMullen, the only physician in Frankford, looked after us in those early years, but I donít think we kept him very busy," remembers Daicar. Dr. McMullen volunteered his time to come do baby checks once a week in Batawa.
A lending library, which was initially based in the factory, was created in the community to help the newcomers learn the English language. "People in the community would provide them with special books to help learn English," recalls Sonja Bata. The library also consisted of books that were brought from Czechoslovakia. "My mother was the librarian for some years," remembers Tony Daicar.
A mimeographed one-page daily newspaper called The Batawa Bulletin was created in English and Czech for the benefit of the new community. Arthur Duncan published the newsletter every day. It contained items such as announcements for birthdays, retirements, weddings, etc. A home broadcast of daily news operated for ten minutes each day to bring the people of the community a rundown of all important news and appeals.
"Sokol" or a gymnastic association, which served as a basis for physical education, was introduced in Batawa. "Sokol" in Czech means "Eagle". The association was aimed at the development of physically well-balanced personalities. It included three types of training: the athletic, the callisthenic and the gymnastic. Women were trained in the elements of rhythmic dances, children in games and plays and men in calisthenics and gymnastics. Sokol activities consisted of gymnastics, including high bar, rings, vaulting horse, tumbling, calisthenics and fitness exercises.
"Batawa is the place where we settled in Canada, where for years we happily created an international community" -Thomas J. Bata.
People of the Community: Thomas J. Bata once said, "In Batawa, Campbellford, Picton and district, people were really exceptional. They were generous to strangers; they exhibited none of the petty suspicion and resistance to change that might have caused us to fail before we started; they joined with us wholeheartedly to build a new Canadian enterprise literally from the ground up."
The Czechs who had arrived in Frankford during the months of July and August 1939 lived with the families of the little village for about four to five months. At that time, Frankford consisted of about 800 people who had suffered financially for about ten years since the closing of the paper mill. "For the Czechs, and for the Canadians in Frankford, our coming was definitely a culture shock to which both adapted marvellously," remarked Tony Daicar. Lifelong friendships were created between the Czechs and the local people.
"The friendliness and openness of the Canadian people was incredible, very refreshing," remarks Sonja Bata. "The Czechs loved to be welcomed, as it was a difficult time for them, having to leave their families behind to come to Canada." Tony Daicar commented on the impact of the arrival of the Czechs, "I think our impact was positive and in return we quickly learned and appreciated the Canadian temperament of kindness and helpfulness which still exists."
The Czechoslovakian people were unfamiliar with the English language and the Canadian way of life, but they had the desire that allowed them to adjust to living in a different country. In difficult times, the Czechs would get together after work and sit on the bank of the Trent River and sing folk songs, love songs, marching songs, ballads and drinking songs, well into the night to remember their homeland. Crowds of people in the community would gather around to hear the music and sometimes join in singing.
War was declared on September 10, 1939 and all Czechoslovaks living in Canada became enemy aliens because they were citizens of a country occupied by Germany. All Czechoslovaks had to register, be fingerprinted and report regularly to the RCMP.
The Czechoslovakian people combined competition with co-operation and had a desire for personal achievement. "They were terribly hard-working people," remembers Sonja Bata. "None of these people began their lives as children of rich or well-to-do families. All of them were convinced that through their work, they would live a good life and have many opportunities." The Czechs acquired a variety of skills through work, sports, languages, hobbies, housework and communal life. Many things were settled with a simple handshake, as the Czech peoples word was their hand.
The Czechs, all of whom had at least two years of military training, formed a company-sized reserve unit called the "Czech Platoon" which was part of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment. "They were excellent soldiers, well-trained and well-disciplined, and I think they made a tremendous contribution to the training of the reinforcement battalion and by this, to the success of one of Canadaís finest regiments in the field," recalls Maj. Loucks, who served with the Second Battalion of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment.Thomas J. Bata became the honorary colonel of the Hasty Pees.
"The people who founded Batawa were imaginative, vigorous and dedicated" - Thomas J. Bata
Bata Industries Limited had an active sports policy. The company offered interdivisional sports competitions with the goal of creating "Friendship through Competition". The Founders Trophy was created as a memorial to Thomas Bata's father, and was presented for the first time in 1976 to the Bata interdivisional sports team. This was 100 years after the birth of his father and founder of the Bata Shoe organization. Canadaís own Barbara Ann Scott, once a skating queen of the world, was a guest of honour at one of the championship banquets.
The company sponsored sports teams such as the Bata Spartans Hockey Club. Twelve towns from Lakefield to Picton participated in the Bata-developed Trent Valley Hockey League, competing for the Thomas Bata Memorial Cup, the Senator Fraser Cup, the W.J. Goodfellow Cup, and the Norris Whitney Cup.
In the winter of 1959, a group of ski enthusiasts created the Batawa Ski Club. The objective of the club was to promote recreational skiing and friendship. The Club's Nancy Greene and North Star Alpine Ski Teams made a name for themselves by their excellent performance in ski competitions throughout Ontario. In February 1985, the Club was excited to have the Canadian Ski Patrol (Ontario Division) using their facilities. The annual Provincial First Aid Competition was held on the Batawa Ski Hill, with an Annual Awards Banquet held in the Chalet in the evening.
Summer pastimes were softball, soccer, outdoor gymnastics, tennis, volleyball, hunting, fishing and swimming. Baseball was popular in the summer and all who did not play were found cheering on the sidelines. During noon hour at the factory, some workers would go out and play baseball on the big baseball diamond. They soon formed the Bata Bombers and created a league. Two players, Ron Mitts and Roy Bonisteel, asked Thomas Bata to supply their team with uniforms. He eagerly agreed, as he encouraged amateur sports. "The team was decked out in the most beautiful blue uniforms," remembers Roy Bonisteel. "We weren't very good but at least we looked good." The Bata Squad, another amateur baseball team, was the Eastern Ontario Champions in 1946.
"The Czechs couldnít understand why there were no pubs in Frankford," remembers Tony Daicar. His family, along with three other Czech families, lived with the Ward family in a large house with a big lawn behind the house running down to the Trent River. "Mr. Ward quickly solved the lack of a pub problem, by hosting parties on Sundays on the lawn, where Czechs gathered with their accordions and violins and robust voices singing Czech songs. Unfortunately, the police shut down Mr. Wards parties because the village of Frankford was strongly opposed to drinking and partying, especially on Sundays," recalls Daicar.
The Batawa Recreation Hall was a crowded spot for evening social events, such as card parties, movies, dances, stage shows, banquets, concerts and fashion shows, which were regularly supported by Bata shoes. In the early years before the United Church was built, Sunday school was held at the Recreation Hall for the children. The Sunday school teachers decided to start holding services once a month in both English and Czech. They contacted the Board of Home Missions of the United Church, who sent one of the ministers from Torontoís Church of All Nations, Reverend Henry Vaclavik. "Batawa United Church flourished. We met regularly in the recreation hall," recalls Hanns F. Skoutajan in his book called Uprooted and Transplanted. It provided a base for Czech and Canadian cooperation. After the war, Vaclavik left and the church joined with the Frankford Pastoral Charge until the United Church was built in Batawa.
A Thomas Bata Memorial scholarship was created for students. The first Batawa student to graduate from university was Dr. Anthony Daicar, who came back to Batawa at ceremonies marking the opening of the post office, to thank Thomas Bata for the scholarship in memory of Thomasís father.
The United Church in Frankford hosted chicken suppers to manage its finances. The Czechs were very surprised by this activity because back in their homeland, the Republic paid priests so they had no need for programs such as this, but they liked the idea. During one of the suppers, the Czechs contributed their musical and singing talents. The Rev. G. F. Lane closed the event with the remark that no chicken supper he could remember had ever been such a success as this one.
The children of the community attended school in Batawa, bought candies from Huyckes grocery store there, played hopscotch, attended picnics, and in turn, some of them went on to work in the plant to earn money. In the early years, children boarded the bus to go to the Frankford Public School. At the end of the day, many children would wait at the Bata plant gate for their parents to walk home with them.
Glee Clubs and orchestras such as the Sokol Orchestra and the Frankford Band were created to further interest in musical appreciation.
Two local Czechoslovak organizations, the Sokol Club and the Czechoslovak National Alliance, held bazaars, concerts, garden parties, etc. to raise funds for various war charity organizations. In 1944, they raised more than $6,000.
There was a variety of clubs in Batawa, such as a supervised club for teenagers, two ladies clubs, a Foreman Executive club for men and Boy Scout and Girl Guide troops for children.
In the years to come, the engineering division was sold to Invar, one of the Linemar companies making automotive parts, employing more than 450 people until its closure in 2010. Gradually, the shoe factory reduced its production as labour costs in Canada were very high and more and more shoes were being imported, particularly from China. By the time the factory closed, the residents of Batawa found other careers, but many remain in their homes in the village, keeping the spirit of a small town strong.
Many in surrounding communities still have connections with the original Czech families. There is a large group of "Batawa Kids" - people who were born in Batawa and today live all over the world - who still maintain a strong sense of kinship to Batawa. In 2008, Batawa held a Homecoming Reunion, where over 1000 former Batawa residents, classmates, employees, and skiers gathered in Batawa for a weekend celebration. During the weekend long event, the original grade 1 and grade 2 students from 1939 gathered to re-enact and reminisce about the first day of school, where 26 Canadian students met the 20 Czech students who, at the time, did not speak a word of English.
Batawa's current residents carry on the community traditions created by the Czech immigrants. Batawa is a vibrant, friendly community with a ski and outdoor education centre, school, church, volunteer fire hall, and pristine natural area surrounding the community. It's still a place where people look after their neighbours and take pride in their neighbourhood.
In 2008, the community upgraded its water and sewer lines, serving the existing 115 homes. The Stormwater Treatment Plant received upgrades in 2009. The waterline from Frankford was installed in 2010, which resulted in the decommissioning and demolition of the Water Treatment Plant, prominently located in the town square.
Today, the Batawa Ski Hill offers three lifts and seven runs. In 2006, the Ski Hill installed their first snowmaking equipment, which led to longer ski seasons for skiers and snowboarders. In 2008, the Ski Hill upgraded their t-bars with a quad chairlift.
Batawa is home to 115 homes and over 300 residents along with a picturesque Catholic Church and elementary school, an active Lions Club, a Community Centre (where weddings, meetings, dinners, receptions, and other events are frequently held), and a fire hall, sugar bush, and several colonies of bees producing local honey.
Batawa is an exemplary small town, and a happy and friendly community with a very bright future.