Batawa Ski Hill in the 1970s.

Batawa Ski Hill, Ontario

Batawa: Small Hill. Big Heart.

Ski Hill: Batawa Ski Hill
Map: Location
Vertical: 50 m (164 ft)
Snowfall: 76 cm (29 in)

Batawa is an amalgam of ‘Bata’ (‘Shoemaker to the World’) and the suffix ‘wa’, as in ‘Ottawa’. The name was first given to a company town, then a ski club and, finally, a ski hill. That the 50-metre (164-vertical-foot) hill still draws thousands of skiers and snowboarders every winter says a lot about our sport’s incredible and enduring appeal. And even more about the people who made the Batawa Ski Hill what it is: a small hill with a big heart.

Community ski areas are where most of us learned to ski and where, in turn, we’re now introducing our children and grandchildren to this fun and healthy, lifelong winter pastime. Community Ski Areas: True Stories from the Heartland of Canadian Skiing is an ongoing series that examines how, when and why community ski areas have become such a welcoming and enjoyable part of Canada’s vibrant winter landscape. || Creative Director: Gordie Bowles | Writer: Dave Fonda

Tomas J. Bata’s Enduring Legacy

The Bata name has been synonymous with sensible shoes since 1894 when Tomas Bata founded his company in Zlin, Czechoslovakia. Tragically killed in a 1932 airplane crash, he left his company to his half-brother, Jan Antonin, and to his only son, Tomas Jan Bata. 

In 1939, Tomas J. Bata, his business partner, Dr. Karel Herz and some 80 Czech factory workers and their families emigrated to Canada. Bata was looking to build a shoe factory. He settled on 1,500 acres of land along the Trent River in the then-economically depressed area around Trenton, Ontario. Welcomed by the locals, he soon put them to work alongside the skilled Czech immigrants making shoes, clothes and precision machine parts for the war effort.

Tomas J. Bata (right). “Beauty-on-Duty” advertisement for Bata shoes during WW2.

Trenton, Ontario. Photo courtesy Batawa Ski Hill.

From Sensible Shoes To Solid Footing

Batawa became the first of dozens of Batavilles the shoe company built around the world. As it flourished, everyone shared in its growth, prosperity and direction. Batawa created a system to help new arrivals learn English. It opened a lending library, launched a daily newsletter and a daily radio broadcast.

Recognizing the link between physical fitness and good health, it created a gymnastics association, and promoted a wide variety of sports, arts and recreational activities.

A Ski Hill Is Born

In 1959, a group of keen skiers who worked at the Bata factory decided the area needed a hill where people could ski and make friends. They called themselves The Batawa Ski Club. 

Volunteering their time, resources and energy, they opened a ski hill and ran a truck-powered rope tow. When the weather turned cold, they served hot beverages from a small tent someone had donated. Skiing had arrived in southeastern Ontario.

Sonja Bata, T. Dekker, J. Cormack, D. Buck, J. Wellstein, S. Folschweiller. Photo courtesy Batawa Ski Hill.

[from left] J. Cormack, T. Bata, S Folschweiler, T. Dekker, S. Bata, D. Buck, C. Shoniker, E. Hewison, L. Cormack, K. Buck, J. Dekker, A. Muskiluke. Photo courtesy Batawa Ski Hill.

How To Make A Small Hill Grow

By 1979, skiing was a favourite winter pastime in Batawa. With the help of volunteers, private pledges and a Wintario grant, the ski club opened the spacious two-storey Sonja Bata Chalet named after Tomas J.’s Swiss-born wife who went on to found the acclaimed Bata Shoe Museum

Next, they replaced the rope tow with a T-bar, installed lighting for night skiing, cut some cross-country ski trails and opened a pro shop that sold and rented both alpine and cross-country gear. In 1988, after securing a provincial grant, the club invested in snowmaking equipment, a new all-terrain vehicle and more rental gear.

Sharing The Wealth

In 1989, the shoe factory employed 1,500 workers: the engineering division had another 380. Tomas J. Bata decided it was time to replace the wartime housing — which his company had subsidized — with new bungalows that his workers could afford.  

For its part, the club effectively lengthened its ski season by boosting the hill’s snowmaking capacity via a new water pipeline.

Batawa factory workers exiting the building at shift end. Photo courtesy Batawa Ski Hill.

Riders enjoying the slopes in 2019.

Changing Direction To Stay The Course

The 2006-07 ski season ushered in a series of sweeping changes. Thanks to Sonja Bata, the small, volunteer-run Batawa Ski Club was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization called the Batawa Ski Hill. Thus began a period of expansion and modernization that continues to this day.

Bata stopped making shoes in Batawa in 2000. Some 300 people still live in the vibrant community that’s now part of Quinte West. The original five-storey Bata factory has been repurposed as a green, geo-thermally heated and cooled, multi-purpose condominium. 

Batawa Today

Last winter, over 32,000 eager skiers and snowboarders from the surrounding communities, Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Kingston and as far away as Toronto descended on the ski area. They came to enjoy Batawa’s 12 trails, two terrain parks, one glade, a top-rated junior racing program and its 17 kilometres of cross-country trails. Active parents, especially, love the man-made kiddie slopes in front of the chalet where they and their young children or grandchildren can play in the snow. Meanwhile, avid non-skiers can sit inside the cozy chalet, sip coffee and watch their offspring learn to ski or snowboard on another learning slope that’s overlooked by the expansive windows.

Summer Camp for Kids, a program for kids of all ages. Photo courtesy Batawa Ski Hill.

Batawa Tomorrow

For GM Brian Diedenhofen, Batawa’s greatest challenge has become the weather. “It’s been warmer and rainier for the past three years,” he says. “Since this area doesn’t get much natural snow, people assume we must be closed even though we have great man-made snow. 

“As a small community hill we want to keep the area affordable, so people can enjoy it. Our operating costs keep rising so much that it’s hard to maintain the balance sheet. And obtaining funds has become increasingly difficult. That said, we’re very proud that Batawa has become known as a very family-friendly ski area where parents and little ones can have fun and learn on the slopes together.”

Batawa Today

Photos courtesy Batawa Ski Hill.
Photos courtesy Batawa Ski Hill.
Photos courtesy Batawa Ski Hill.
Photos courtesy Batawa Ski Hill.
Photos courtesy Batawa Ski Hill.
Photos courtesy Batawa Ski Hill.
Photos courtesy Batawa Ski Hill.

“A community ski area brings people together to create memories and good times with friends and families, often on a regular basis. The decisions made regarding its operation should be based on our financial responsibilities but also on the needs of our local residents.”

– Brian Diedenhofen, General Manager, Batawa Ski Hill

If you have any photos, videos or anectdotes that you’d like us to add to this story OR if you have a story about any other ski area is your province or territory that you’d like us to add to this collection, please contact: [email protected]