Serge Folschweiler arrived in Batawa from France 50 years ago. The young shoemaker fell in love and started a new life in Canada, calling the village home.
“We worked together. We played together. Everything was done together,” he says. “It was a wonderful feeling, really.”
Folschweiler, 74, came to Batawa after the Second World War with other immigrants to work at the Bata shoe factory.
Today, he is one of 300 people living in the remaining 110 Batawa households.
The village was founded by Dr. Karel Herz and Thomas J. Bata when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939. One hundred Czech families followed Bata to the 1,500 acres of farmland between Trenton and the village of Frankford.
The Bata shoe factory opened in October 1939. The village was home to Bata employees and re-named “Batawa” on June 24, 1940. The name combined the word “Bata” with the last syllable of Ottawa, making a link to the nation’s capital.
Folschweiler and his wife lived in Bata homes which were small, wood houses built during the Second World War, featuring two bedrooms and a living room.
“When we got married, we paid $6 a week [to live there],” he remembers.
A recreation hall was built in 1942 and a community centre was constructed in 1963 to replace it. A shopping centre was built in 1943 featuring a post office savings bank, grocery store, and the Bata shoe retail store.
The village’s first church, the Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart, was completed in the spring of 1943 and the United Church was built in 1948. The Batawa ski hill was introduced in 1959 as part of the village’s expansion.
Folschweiler, an avid skier, helped build the ski hill with 10 other Bata employees using an old pick up truck and very little machinery.
“I worked nine hours a day in the factory, came home, ate, and went to the ski hill and worked there until 10 o’clock.”
These days, there is a lot of excitement about the vision Sonja Bata, Thomas J. Bata’s widow, has to revitalize the village and making it a sustainable community with the help of Carleton University architecture and industrial design students.