The former eastern Ontario company town of Batawa has long presented a fascinating story, but new development is introducing vitality for the present and future.
The town of Batawa emerged on the shores of the Trent River — just north of the Bay of Quinte and not far from the better-known cities of Belleville and Trenton — when Thomas Bata built a shoe factory and housing for its workers shortly after emigrating to Canada from Czechoslovakia in 1939. The factory employed 1,500 people by 1989, but shut down 10 years later when it had become outdated and unprofitable.
“After the closure of the Bata Shoe Factory, it was used for short-term business and other activities such as training exercises by the Canadian Armed Forces and local firefighters,” Batawa Development Corporation (BDC) community development coordinator Raquel Richardson told RENX.
The privately owned BDC was incorporated in 2005 when Thomas Bata’s widow Sonja purchased the 1,600-acre Batawa property. The shoe factory has been transformed by BDC into a multi-family rental apartment called Batawa Lofts.
“The process of converting an industrial factory into residential and commercial space required environmental work and finding the right architecture and design to realize a vision Mrs. Bata had,” said Richardson. “She selected Quadrangle and Dubbeldam Architecture + Design.
“Considerable work to the structure was required. The key characteristics of the old factory building were to be kept and the new look of the building was to resemble that of the old shoe factory.
“The factory is an integral part of the community and its past. It was never meant to be a project done quickly, but done right. The work began in 2014, and was completed this year.”
Batawa Lofts has 47 residential units ranging in size from 590 to 1,220 square feet in one-bedroom, one-bedroom-plus-den, two-bedroom, and two-bedroom-plus-den configurations. Rents begin at $1,370 a month in the five-storey building.
The suites include balconies and a rooftop patio offers views of the Trent Canal, Batawa Ski Hill and the Quinte West countryside.
The ground floor and second floor will be rented to commercial and institutional businesses. The Military Family Resource Centre, which already operates childcare centres in Trenton and Belleville, will use most of the ground floor.
Particular attention was paid to creating an efficient building through its envelope and energy systems.
The Batawa community
Batawa is comprised of 130 homes and a small retirement residence with 11 units. Its population was estimated to be 300 in 2016, though that’s expected to increase with current and future property developments.
Batawa is located on Highway 33, five kilometres off of Highway 401. It became a part of the amalgamated City of Quinte West in 1998. The community has been designated as a growth area by the city, and infrastructure upgrades and environmental assessments have already been completed in the area.
“It is the vision of BDC to contribute to the existing community by building residential, commercial and recreational spaces while respecting and working with the natural environment that surrounds Batawa and makes it a desirable place to live, work and play,” said Richardson. “We want to develop the community in a sustainable and environmentally responsible way as a model for other community developments.”
BDC director Bengt Gunnarsson said there are advanced plans for a subdivision of about 40 single-family homes in Batawa, and more details will be announced “in due course.”
Batawa’s former post office and Bank of Montreal branch were purchased by BDC in 2007 and received substantial upgrades and renovations. Both buildings are leased by Lassing Dibben Consulting Engineers Ltd.
Batawa Ski Hill improvements
The Batawa Ski Hill celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. The plan is to transform it into a year-round recreation area for families.
Major improvements have been made to existing trail systems, while new ones have been created throughout the area to cater to walkers, hikers and mountain bikers.
The federal government’s Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program has provided grants to help fund renovations at the ski hill chalet.
“The chalet will receive a number of upgrades, including a new kitchen, new accessible entrances to the building, new heating and air conditioning systems, and a number of environmentally friendly improvements to the building that will allow the chalet to operate more sustainably in the future,” said Gunnarsson.
Gunnarsson said BDC is focusing all of its attention on Batawa and the available lands in that area. The company has no development plans outside of the area.