Boots That Delivered

charity unicef boots

If these boots could talk, they would tell you an amazing story. Worn by Canadian Nigel Fisher, they have visited thirteen countries and have trekked over 100,000 kilometres during thirty years with the UN and UNICEF. They have walked through deserts, mountains, tropical rainforests, jungles, sandstorms and torrential rains. Nigel’s footwear brought emergency and vaccination programs to millions of children.

These boots navigated through the perilous rubble of Port-au-Prince after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. They witnessed negotiations between the Afghan government, the opposing Northern Alliance and an international coalition to ensure a polio vaccination campaign could proceed following the bombings when war broke out in 2001. Nigel wore them when he visited a UNICEF-supported shelter for girls in Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo, who had been brutally raped by militias, some of them captured for years, many with babies.  The stories go on and on, just like the boots did.

Canadian humanitarian Nigel Fisher’s life-saving boots were inducted into the Bata Shoe Museum in 2012.


Bata Shoe Museum: The Rise of Sneaker Culture

museum galleries Bata out of the box

The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto is a cultural gem in a shoe-box-like structure designed by famed architect Raymond Moriyama. Boasting a collection of 13,000 shoes and related artifacts, the museum has four galleries, with displays ranging from Chinese bound-foot shoes and ancient Egyptian sandals to chestnut-crushing clogs and glam platforms.

The current special exhibit “Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture” explores the history of the sneaker with some 120 running shoes from the past 150 years. On view are some of the rarest sneakers from the archives of Adidas, Nike, Reebok, PUMA, Converse and England’s Northampton Museums and Art Gallery, with the largest collection of historical footwear in the world. On loan are shoes from rap music legends Run DMC, sneaker guru Bobbito Garcia aka Kool Bob Love and Dee Wells from OSD (Obsessive Sneaker Disorder).

Now termed a “status symbol and icon of urban culture,” the historical beginnings of the sneaker are shown from its emergence in the 19th century to becoming “one of the most democratic forms of footwear” in the 20th century.

Scottish Ghillie Brogues by Thistle Shoes

Shoemaker Thistle Scottish Brogues

The origins of Ghillie Brogues stretch back through Scottish history. A‘Ghillie’ was an indispensable assistant to a Highland chief – carrying hunting rifles or fishing rods. On occasion, he even carried his employer.

Ghillies walked and walked….through the bogs, rivers, bracken, and heather. They scaled the highlands or scrambled through the lowlands.  If walking was hard on a man, it was worse for his footwear.

Ghillie Brogues were designed for the work of a Ghillie. A patterned network of fine holes punched in the shoe leather called ‘brogueing’ allowed any water to drain while walking. Originally, the laces were above the ankle so the shoes wouldn’t get stuck in the mud. Thistle Shoes of Scotland makes Ghillie Brogues as they have always been made. Tough as nails – but with a heart of gold. Not unlike the people for whom they’re named.

A footnote:

Why call the company “Thistle Shoes?  In the Middle Ages, the Scots and the Norsemen were at war. King Haakon of Norway and his men landed at the Coast of Largs at night intent on surprising their Scottish foe. Removing their boots, they crept on bare feet towards the Scottish army. Then one of the attackers stepped on the sharp spines of a Scots thistle. The yell he made at this unwelcome assault on his feet alerted the Scots who drove the attackers from their shore.

Boot-Maker to the Kings and King of Boot-Makers

Shoemaker John Lobb

In the middle of the 19th century, John Lobb was a lame Cornish farmboy whose mastery of the Gentle Craft of last and awl brought him golden awards in the Great International Exhibitions. He held the Royal Warrant as Bootmaker to Edward, Prince of Wales. In this ‘Edwardian’ era of opulence and splendour, Lobb shoes became synonymous with quality and elegance.

In 1976, the French luxury brand, Hermès, took over the John Lobb name and has since broadened the reach of the brand.

The Last Shall Come First

A John Lobb shoe- or boot-maker stretches leather over a ‘last’, a beech wood form that is a hand-carved representation of the customer’s foot. Then he draws a pattern for the uppers which is passed to a clicker, the person who cuts the leather. Next, the closer assembles the leather uppers.  Once this is done, the heel and soles are clicked.  The shoe- or boot-maker assembles all the parts and finally, polishes the shoes or boots.

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“Dead Man’s Boots” Lyrics Sung by Sting


You see these work boots in my hands, they’ll probably fit ye now my son,

Take them, they’re a gift from me, why don’t you try them on?

It would do your old man good to see you walking in these boots one day,

And take your place among the men who work upon the slipway.


These dead man’s boots, though they’re old and curled,

When a feller needs a job and a place in the world,

And it’s time for a man to put down roots,

And walk to the river in his old man’s boots.


He said, “I’m nearly done and asking this, that ye do one final thing for me!

You’re barely but a sapling, and you think that you’re a tree.

If ye need a seed to prosper, ye must first put down some roots.

Just one foot then the other in these dead man’s boots.”


These dead man’s boots know their way down the hill,

They could walk there themselves, and they probably will.

There’s a place for ye there to sink your roots,

And take a walk down the river in these dead man’s boots.


I said, “Why in the Hell would I do that? And why would I agree?”

When his hand was all that I’d received, as far as I remember.

It’s not as if he’d spoiled me with his kindness up to then ye see.

I’d a plan of me own and I’d quit this place when I came of age September.


These dead man’s boots know their way down the hill,

They can walk there themselves, and they probably will.

I’d plenty of choices, and plenty other routes,

And he’d never see me walking in these dead man’s boots.


What was it made him think I’d be happy ending up like him?

When he’d hardly got two halfpennies left, or a broken pot to piss in.

He wanted this same thing for me, was that his final wish?

He said, “What the hell are ye gonna do?”

I said, “Anything but this!”


These dead man’s boots know their way down the hill,

They can walk there themselves and they most likely will.

But they won’t walk with me ‘cos I’m off the other way,

I’ve had it up to here, I’m gonna have my say.

When all ye’ve got left is that cross on the wall?

I want nothing from you, I want nothing at all.

Not a pension, nor a pittance, when your whole life is through,

Get this through your head, I’m nothing like you,

I’m done with all the arguments, there’ll be no more dispute,

And ye’ll die before ye see me in your dead man’s boots.

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