Shoe collection no footling pursuit

Collecting shoes came naturally to Sonja Bata.

As a young bride, she shopped diligently, buying scores of shoes that she then handed out to designers at Bata factories all over the world as aids for developing new lines.

As Mrs. Bata became more knowledgeable about different kinds of footwear, the leap from buying to collecting was a natural progression.

“Shoes tell you more about people and their history than any other artifact,” says Mrs. Bata, whose collection, started after her 1946 marriage to shoemaker Thomas J. Bata, has grown to some 8,000 pairs of shoes.

There are wooden Egyptian sandals with big toe-knobs made in 2,500 B.C. There are 17th-century leather cavalier boots. There are straw boots from the Ukraine, embroidered animal hide boots from Afghanistan, brass shoes from Korea and workingmen’s clogs from 19th-century Europe.

There are celebrity shoes for bunions: a pair of black satin boots worn by Queen Victoria, garish sequined platform boots worn by Elton John, pink ballet slippers worn by Karen Kain, hand-tooled cowboy boots worn by Robert Redford. There is also a Terry Fox running shoe.

There are shoes worn by Venetian courtesans, by Japanese geishas, by U.S. infantry soldiers. There are pairs of the grotesquely tiny shoes worn by Chinese women whose feet were bound to make them more attractive.

There is also the most comprehensive assortment of footwear worn by North American Indians and the native peoples who inhabit the world’s circumpolar regions.

You name them, Sonja Bata has them.

Needless to say, the collection long ago outgrew the Batas’ spacious Bridle Path residence and had to be moved to the Bata headquarters in Don Mills where the shoes sit on shelves in a climate-controlled area of the basement.

But, given the historical and anthropological significance of her collection, Mrs. Bata believes it would be a shame to keep the best running shoes for plantar fasciitis under wraps, as it were.

“When you get shoes of historical interest – coronation shoes or wedding shoes of famous people – you can’t help but to dream back to that period and wonder what was it really like, what was the ceremony like, who was there, what was the whole environment like.

“So the challenge in designing the shoe museum is to put that across to the viewer. We can’t just put these historic shoes into a glass case and let people read the labels. If we did they would have great difficulties relating to them,” Mrs. Bata says. “It cannot be static. It must be exciting, people-oriented.”

So in 1979, she set up a foundation for the express purpose of establishing the first shoe museum in the Western Hemisphere. To date, her efforts to get the $6-million project off the drawing boards have been stymied – first by anti-apartheid groups critical of Bata Ltd.’s employment practices in South Africa, then by bureaucratic red tape from Toronto’s City Council.

In March, the Ontario Municipal Board approved a mid-town hotel complex that, pending the granting of building permits from City Council, will contain the Bata shoe museum. Says Mrs. Bata: “It will be a world-class museum that I feel will be popular. After all, shoes are something that everyone has to have and to which everyone can relate.”

Rats on the run: a patrol defends Alberta against furry rodents from the east

The pest control officers drove along gravel roads, past fields colored dull gold with the stubble of last year’s wheat crop. It was early in May, and the snow was off Alberta’s rolling prairie farmland. So the officers had no time to waste. The Norway rats, those varmints from the east that snuck across the Saskatchewan border last fall to take up winter residence in Alberta hay bales and grain bins, would soon be dispersing their young. The officers were armed with shotguns and .22-calibre rifles and converging on a farm near the town of Bodo, 230 km southeast of Edmonton. It was there, just across the road from Saskatchewan, that farmer Blaine Wandler’s 11-year-old son had found a rat under a woodpile a week earlier. A subsequent inspection of the site uncovered a veritable infestation. “If they disperse, if we miss any today,” said Don Dallyn, one of three full-time and three part-time officers who maintain a vigil along the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, “we probably won’t find them until next spring.” By then, he said, a pair of rats ensconced in a nice, roomy grain bin could produce 400 to 1,000 offspring.

Norway rats–one of the most destructive rodents known to mankind–first arrived on the east coast of North America by ship from Europe about 1775. They advanced inexorably westward, by as much as 15 km a year, eating and contaminating crops, chewing up walls, undermining buildings and sewers, and spreading disease. But in 1950, when the rats crossed into Alberta, provincial officials drew a line in the prairie soil. They established a cordon sanitaire that now stretches 25 km wide and 500 km long, from Cold Lake in the north to the U.S. border in the south. Ever since, pest control officers have patrolled that buffer zone–baiting, poisoning, shooting or gassing every last rat that has put its furry paws on the Alberta side of the border. “One way or another,” says Michael Dolinski, head of Alberta Agriculture’s rat control program, “every rat that ends up in the province, ends up dead.”

The Alberta government spends $250,000 a year on rat control, even at a time when Premier Ralph Klein’s Conservative government has made deep spending cuts in other departments. Dolinski argues that the program is well worth it. If rats were to infest Alberta, he maintains, they could cause $25 million a year in damage to crops and buildings. In fact, experts estimate that, worldwide, rats consume or contaminate one-fifth of all field crops. And in neighboring Saskatchewan, where rats invaded in the 1930s, the provincial government, rural municipalities and the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool spend more than $700,000 a year in rural areas alone on home pest control. Most of that money goes towards controlling the rat population–although officials have little hope of ever eradicating them.

The border patrol is a point of pride among Albertans. But outsiders often scoff at the province’s claim to be one of the only inhabited regions on earth that is free of Norway rats. “You proclaim something like that, everyone’s on your case,” says Dallyn. But he says that rats multiply so quickly, it would be impossible not to notice if even a single pregnant female had penetrated into the Alberta interior. “It would be a matter of a year or two,” he says, “and everybody would know about it.”

The success of the Alberta rat control program relies on a simple fact of rodent life. For all their resilience, for all their ability to propagate, the rats have a critical weakness: they cannot survive the harsh prairie winter without the shelter and food they find where humans live. In order for rats to invade new territory, human settlements cannot be farther apart than the distance the rats can travel in a year. Along Alberta’s southern border with Montana, where farms are few and widely dispersed, the rats have never established a foothold. Nor can they advance across the uninhabited forests in northern Alberta, or the mountains along the western border with British Columbia. The central part of the border with Saskatchewan, thick with grain and cattle farms, is the rats’ primary point of penetration.

Just a few kilometres from that frontier, in their pretty white farmhouse near Chauvin, Alta., live Don and Bette Dallyn. Parents of five grown children and grandparents 11 times over, the Dallyns are the first husband-and-wife team in the history of Alberta rat control. “And you’ll find us a bit zealous,” said Don Dallyn, 59, who took over rat control in the Wainwright municipal district 18 years ago when the couple gave up dairy farming. Bette, 56, began working the Provost area, just south of Don’s district, six years later. “We had kids young,” explained Don. “When our kids grew up, Bette wanted to do something different.”

Pest control is no work for the faint of heart. And when Bette Dallyn was first hired, some of the farmers in the area wondered if she was up to the job. “I was accused, being a woman, of being afraid of mice and rats,” she said. “One guy tried his darndest to get me to pick up a mouse. Finally, I picked up some babies and I said, `Ah, we’ll have these for supper.’ ” She was joking, of course. “But I proved a point that day,” said Bette, clearly pleased with herself.

Most of the rat control officers’ work involves bait: rolled oats dusted with icing sugar and laced with warfarin, an anticoagulant that makes the rats’ blood run thin and kills them in about six days. The officers distribute the bait to farmers and lay out extra bait when they suspect an infestation. They also do a visual check of every possible rat refuge–from barns to abandoned shacks. Bette checks about 700 sites annually in her 594-square-mile district, three checks a year for the sites closest to the border. Her first year on the job, she found 146 rat infestations. Last year, she was down to 10. “That does not, of course, account for all the rats who ate the rat poison and died before anyone noticed them,” she cautioned.

Blaine Wandler tipped Bette off to the infestation on his farm. Although he lives in Bette’s district, eradication is always a group effort. And so Don Dallyn and two officers from Vermilion River County to the north–Orest Popil, 39, and Glen Garton, 35–came to help. About 200 m from the gravel road that serves as the Saskatchewan-Alberta border were three red grain bins. As Don Dallyn circled them, his trained eye caught the rodents’ telltale signs: rat droppings, a worn path between the bins, a scrap of plywood with rat-tooth marks. Bette figured the rats got in there last fall. “If I’d have found them in the winter, we’d have baited them,” she said. But the snow was too deep to check the bins then. And with the coming of spring and pregnant female rats ready to move on, there was no time to play around with slow-acting poison.

The group first attacked the scrap wood piled beside the bins. Bette Dallyn, Popil and Garton stood poised, guns trained, as Don lifted a sheet of plywood and two rats came scurrying out from underneath. Bang! Cows wandering by on the other side of a barbed wire fence paused to turn curious heads.

It was slow work–one board at a time–and tough shooting, with the rats twisting and running in all directions. The officers used shotguns with very fine pellets and .22s loaded with bird shot–“No ricochets that way,” said Don Dallyn. He recounted one hair-raising incident when a farmer, eager to help, got his own rifle from the house–loaded with solid-point bullets. “Orest and I were in the granary when he shot right through it,” said Don. “That’s why we like to use our own guys.”

Clearing the rats from the woodpile took all morning. Afterwards, the officers checked a site they eradicated the previous week. They found no new sign of rodents and there were smiles and “job-well-dones” all around. Then they drove into Bodo, to the Oilmen’s Diner Restaurant for lunch. The Bodo area is mixed agricultural and oil country, with oil wells dotted around the farmers’ fields. Dressed in their bright-blue coveralls, the pest control officers were conspicuous among the farmers and oilmen at the diner. But then, they are used to standing out from a crowd. “The good thing about the job is that you’re always the life of the party,” remarked a jovial Popil. “People are always asking you, `Are you for real?’ ”

For real, yes, and in poor economic times, at least, even envied. Full-time officers make $26,000 to $31,000; part-timers are paid a prorated salary. And 60 people applied for Garton’s part-time job when he got it last summer. Garton, who also farms 600 acres, says his family has long been supportive of rat control. “My dad said that we’ve had only two rats on our farm,” he said proudly. “He killed one with a pitchfork. The other,” Garton added with a grin, “he chased back to Saskatchewan.”

After lunch, it was back to the Wandler farm and the grain bins. When bins are full, rats do not usually enter them. They burrow underneath, then chew holes in the bottom of the bins. That way, grain filters down to them all winter long. Wandler figured he had lost a few bushels of grain. “But it’s not what they eat so much,” he said. “It’s the damage they do that’s so bad–they chew up everything in sight.” He would have to repair the bins, he said. And then he would have to prop them about six inches off the ground to ward off future infestations.

The actual eradication used homespun technology. As Wandler watched, Don Dallyn attached a black rubber hose to his car’s exhaust pipe, then shoved the other end of the hose under one of the bins. The rodents would either suffocate, or come out to face a firing squad. As the car exhaust started to take effect, Bette Dallyn, Popil and Garton levelled their guns again. One pink nose came out of a hole. Bang! “Head shot,” said Garton. Bang! Bang! “Good shot, Bette,” shouted Popil. And so it went, gassing and shooting, until the four rat control officers were satisfied that they had eliminated the latest threat to Alberta’s rat-free status.

Preparing for a stepped-up war?

When ten new UH-1H combat helicopters arrived here from the United States in early September, reporters were looking the other way. Yet the Vietnam-era Hueys represented a 42 percent increase in the Salvadoran Air Force’s complement, bringing the total to thirty-four. U.S. officials say that ten to fifteen more are expected by the end of the year.

Charmed by President Jose Napoleon Duarte’s promises to bring justice and peace to his people, members of Congress voted on August 10 to provide him with $70 million in supplemental military aid. The Hueys are highly visible tokens of their support.

But they also mean that the four-and-a-half-year civil war could enter a new, bloodier phase–particularly if the peace talks between President Duarte and the rebels fail, as many here predict. The helicopters will be used to implement a counterinsurgency strategy that has long been advocated by U.S. military advisers here. It calls for carrying the war to the rebels and their civilian bases of support in the northern and eastern provinces. Unarmed civilians living in rebel-held areas who refuse to move to government refugee camps will be subject to direct attack.

The Hueys will be used to counteract the element of surprise the rebels have employed so effectively in the war. By attacking government installations when least expected and then ambushing the reinforcements that are sent in, they have been able to inflict severe casualties. The Salvadoran Army plans to respond to such raids with lightning attacks. The new strategy involves flying troops over rugged terrain where they would otherwise be vulnerable to ambush and depositing them where they can block the guerrillas’ escape.

But U.S. counterinsurgency specialists also advocate using the best drones to airlift small units of elite troops deep into rebel-controlled territory, where they can strike at the heart of the enemy’s logistical support system. Such forays will compel the guerrillas to protect the unarmed peasants, known as the masas (“the masses’), who live with them and provide them with food and supplies.

Although U.S. officials deny that the helicopter-borne assault teams will be used to terrorize civilians who back the guerrillas, government forces are already rehearsing the tactic. On August 30, around the time the shipment of Hueys arrived, army units launched helicopter assaults on the townships of Las Vueltas and San Jose Las Flores in rebel-controlled zones of Chalatenango province.

Journalists who arrived on the scene ten days later were told by local peasants that at least thirty-seven women, children and old people had been killed in the operation. According to the villagers,helicopters bearing Salvadoran troops, led by the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Battalion, stalked a group of several hundred peasants who were escorted by a small force of armed guerrillas. The peasants described their bewilderment and terror as they saw the best quadcopter land troops on hilltops all around them, cutting them off. When the soldiers closed in, some people panicked and plunged into the rapidly flowing Gualsinga River, where several drowned. Others were cut down by machine-gun fire or taken prisoner. (Forty-eight of those captured were later turned over to the Red Cross.) The remaining civilians escaped when the guerrillas fought their way out of the army cordon.

Journalists at the site found evidence confirming the villagers’ reports, including five badly decomposed bodies of women and children lying near the river. U.S. officials said they were reluctant to comment on the alleged massacre until the Duarte government had conducted an investigation. When President Duarte returned from a Latin American tour on September 20, he announced that the probe had uncovered no evidence of army wrongdoing. Quite the contrary, he said: the valiant soldiers had rescued thirty-eight fleeing peasants who were trying to cross the Sumpul River, on the Honduran border. His account failed to explain the five bodies found beside the Gualsinga River.

The presence of armed guerrillas among the peasants appears to have softened the implication of a massacre. No one disputes the fact that the rebels had returned the Salvadoran troops’ fire. But the civilian survivors insist that it was a massacre.

When the army adopts the new counterinsurgency tactics, incidents in which armed guerrillas and civilians are taken by surprise in their home territory by heliborne assault units will occur with increased frequency. U.S. officials claim, however, that in small-unit engagements, Salvadoran troops will be able to distinguish between combatants and unarmed civilians.

“You can see who you’re fighting, who’s carrying an M-16 and who’s carrying an M-60 machine gun,’ said a U.S. official. “It’s pretty clear he’s a guerrilla.’

But the peasants of Las Vueltas and San Jose Las Flores, and the rest of the estimated 150,000 to 200,000 masas who live in guerrilla-held areas, might be forgiven if they do not share that faith in the Salvadoran Army.

“It looks like they want to eliminate all of us so that there are only people like them left,’ I was told by a 50-year-old woman who survived the attack. She repeatedly referred to the army as “the enemy.’

Catholic Church sources believe the helicopter attacks are intended to drive away the civilians who provide the rebel combatants with food, intelligence and logistical support. “The helicopters are a new way to terrorize the masas,’ one church human-rights observer told me. “In order to depopulate the zone, they will hunt down the masas. They will capture who they can, evacuate them and exterminate the rest.’ Church officials recount that in the past, large-scale search-and-destroy operations and aerial bombardments were used by the army to kill or frighten away the civilianpopulation in guerrilla-held zones. More than a half-million peasants have fled to displaced-person centers in areas, but those who remain appear willing to endure the hardships of fleeing before army sweeps and digging tunnels to escape bombardment rather than accept “sanctuary’ in the refugee centers sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

While admitting the theoretical value of isolating guerrillas from their civilian supporters, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering denies that the United States is encouraging the army to target civilians in order to defeat the rebels. In the past Pickering has cited the 500,000 refugees who have come over to the “government side’ as a sign of waning popular support for the guerrillas. Asked about the wholeasle dislocation of civilians in El Salvador, Pickering said, “That has happened as a matter of course. It’s a tragic set of circumstances. It’s part of the war, but it’s not part of a policy.’

The objectives of Salvadoran military commanders may sometimes depart from U.S. policy, however. In a communique issued on September 15, El Salvador’s Independence Day, the army’s Third Brigade, which is based in San Miguel, declared its intention to “liberate the peasants of the East who live in caves and caverns.’

“We have the fraternal obligation,’ the statement continued, “to call upon our brothers yet in slavery under the subversive, terrorist yoke.’

Pickering said the issuance of the communique had nothing to do with the army’s adoption of thehelicopter-assault strategy. But U.S. officials say the Third Brigade has pioneered the heliborne techniques and other aggressive tactics. Reportedly, the San Miguel garrison will soon acquire seven of the new choppers. (The State Department denies this.)

Those familiar with the language of psychological warfare and the particular brutalities of the Salvadoran war will have little trouble reading the army’s call as a final warning. There is still time for the masas to come down from the mountains and join the privileged half-million. The remaining peasants–armed or unarmed–who refuse to heed the call of freedom can expect to be considered “enemies of the fatherland’ and treated accordingly. The lucky ones will be captured.