Sonja Bata, LL.D., May 26, 1999

Sonja Bata
D.C.; LL.D.(Dal.); LL.D.(York)(Can.); D.Hum.L.(Mount Saint Vincent); LL.D.(Wilson College, PA)

Within the framework of holistic learning, interdisciplinary and international studies have taken on new dimensions of intensity and importance. It is appropriate, therefore, that we honour Mrs. Sonja Bata in recognition of her outstanding contribution to circumpolar research and education in the interdisciplinary fields of conservation, ecology, museology, and material culture.

Mrs. Sonja Bata was born and educated in Zurich, Switzerland. She studied architecture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and then married Mr. Thomas Bata, C.C.. As a young bride, Sonja moved to Canada with her husband where they raised their four children and built a multinational shoe company, the Bata Shoe Organization. Today, the Bata headquarters in Toronto oversees Bata operations in 69 countries and employs over 52,000 people. The Batas have created communities in Canada, India, and elsewhere which provide employees with modern housing, education, and medical facilities. Mrs. Bata's interest in international footwear has resulted in the development of the worlds largest footwear collection, the Bata Shoe Museum which is located in downtown Toronto. Mrs. Sonja Bata has taken leadership roles on numerous national and international boards, including Alcan Aluminum, Junior Achievement of Canada, World Wildlife Fund, National Design Council of Canada, and the Council for Business and the Arts in Canada. In recognition of her extensive contribution to education, business, and community development in these and other organizations, Mrs. Sonja Bata was an Appointed Officer of the Order of Canada, an Honorary Captain of the Canadian Navy, and is the recipient of numerous awards including the Silver Medal of the United Nations Environmental Program, Honorary Degrees from the Universities of Dalhousie, York, Mount Saint Vincent, Wilson College and Loyalist College.

Since 1982, over twenty graduate students at the University of Manitoba have been supported by Mrs. Bata's funding initiatives with the World Wildlife Fund. For example, Mrs. Bata auctioned off part of her personal art collection to finance a large portion of the multi-million dollar Whales Beneath the Sea Program which contributed $150,000 directly to graduate research in the Department of Zoology. Other students received World Wildlife Funds through the Waterhen Wood Bison Project, the Wild West Program, the Manitoba Naturalists Society, and the Fort Whyte Centre for Environmental Education.

Mrs. Bata's long term commitment to developing the field of circumpolar human ecology with researchers at the University of Manitoba has enabled this university to become firmly established as the leading academic institution in this field. Since 1983, Mrs. Bats has provided significant intellectual and financial support to faculty, graduate, and undergraduate researchers. She has contributed to new deielàpments in museology and material culture by providing opportunities for researchers to develop and apply theories relating to the inclusion of Aboriginal perspectives in material culture research. Mrs. Bata has brought together teams of designers, illustrators, researchers, and Aboriginal Elders to develop innovative ways of disseminating research in the form of challenging exhibitions, including one exhibition done in partnership with the Russian Museum of Ethnography in St. Petersburg, and manuscripts published by the Smithsonian Institution and other leading national and international publishers.

Mrs. Sonja Bata is honoured for her personal contributions to Northern and Aboriginal Studies in the interdisciplinary fields of conservation, ecology, museology, and material culture; and for her contribution to the intellectual development and scholarship of University of Manitoba undergraduate students, graduate students, and professors.