Fairbank’s boots turning heads in Toronto exhibit

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Some eye-popping shoes with ties to Petrolia are turning heads online and at a new exhibit at the Bata Shoe Museum.

A pair Clara Fairbank’s carriage boots trimmed in ostrich feathers are part of the museum’s exhibit called Obsessed.

Clara was married Charles Fairbank in 1900 and the Fairbank mansion in Petrolia was her home for 44 years from 1912 to 1956.

One of Clara Fairbanks ornate boots which are now in the Bata Shoe Museum

A pair of Fairbank’s ornate carriage boots were donated to the shoe museum in 2020 by Charlie Fairbank of Oil Springs. They now feature prominently in the Toronto exhibit which shows how industrialization drove shoe consumption. 

“How we have come to be shoe obsessed is a complicated story of need, innovation, desire and opportunity and has as much to do with industrialization as it does with personal style. This exhibition explores how new ideas have inspired new shoes,” says Elizabeth Semmelhack, Director and Senior Curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in a news release.

According to the shoe museum, they were designed to be worn in unheated carriages to keep your feet warm. Most were made to fit over evening shoes. Many carriage boots have quilted lining and fur trim for extra coziness.

Clara Fairbank was a woman of style and her ornate shoes are now in the Bata Shoe Museum.

The museum featured the shoes on its Instagram account and drew over 12,000 likes.

“These hand-made boots by a French shoemaker were long saved by my grandmother and by family long after,” says Charlie Fairbank.

“My grandmother’s shoes are not simply fashion items, they are artifacts of Petrolia’s stellar innovation and industry which created wealth. When I was a boy, I chopped wood in the mansion basement for my grandmother’s fireplace. I remember her as a woman of exquisite and expensive tastes,” said Fairbank when the shoes were first donated to Bata.

At the time, officials at the shoe museum said they had never seen anything like them.