Dominion of Canada Day Luncheon
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 25 Jun 1987, p. 10-16
Filey, Mike, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Royal Commonwealth Society.
Some interesting facets of Canada's premier city, shown through slides. An historical photographic tour of Toronto.
Date of Original
25 Jun 1987
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
Empire Club of Canada
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Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
Mike Filey, Author, historian, broadcaster
June 25, 1987
At a joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Royal Commonwealth Society
Co-Chairmen: Catherine Chariton, Vice-Chairman The Royal Commonwealth Society; Ronald Goodall, President, The Empire Club of Canada

Ronald Goodall

Our two clubs have established a tradition of celebrating Canada's birthday. Some of us have feted Canada every July since birth although Victoria Day seems to have been the traditional evening of fireworks. Some of us have feted St. Jean Baptiste; some of us have learned to celebrate July 1. Together we mark Canada's 120th birthday, Canada - a land of beauty, a land rich in its people and in its abundance of life's necessities, a land of opportunity.

The poet Standish O'Grady in the early 19th century thought the country cold:

Old Nick took a fancy, as many men tell, To come for a winter to live in Sorel.

Yet the snow fell so deep as he came in his sleigh, That his fingers and toes were frost-nipt on the way.

So he put back his sleigh, for he thought it amiss, His clime to compare to a climate like this;

And now 'tis resolved that this frightful new-comer, Will winter in hell and be here in the summer.

Winter seems to have been a favorite topic for Canadian poets! But, as I learned, the summer can be very hot, the spring runoff refreshingly cool and the fall pleasantly warmed by Indian summer.

There is one special place in Canada, Toronto. Here our ambitions have been fulfilled; our loves have been matched and our homes made.

To tell us more about Toronto, our meeting place, we are indeed fortunate to have Mike Filey with us today-a Torontonian born and bred and, like us all, proud of it.

We have come to know Mike over the years as an author, historian and broadcaster documenting and promoting our city. The Toronto press called Mike a "fanatic" in 1970 for his obsession with Toronto. He has been referred to also as a "usually shy chemist," a "boyish-looking redhead" and our "Mr. Yesterday."

Mike's career spans chemistry with the Ontario government, public relations with the Canadian National Exhibition and Canada's Wonderland and, currently, freelance author. Mike is justly proud of his receipt of Toronto's civic award of merit for his work on Toronto's 150th anniversary celebration.

Mike Filey

First, I'd like to assure you that unlike yesterday's guest speaker, Michael Wilson, I am not here today to try and get any more money out of your pockets or purses. However, if you would like to buy my new book, hot off the press, l will be selling them out of the trunk of my car after the meeting.

This being a special Canada Day meeting of The Empire Club and Royal Commonwealth Society, I'd like to chat with you for a few minutes about some of the interesting facets of our country's premier city. To do that, I've brought along some slides so I'm going to ask you to face the screen. You may notice as I go through that I don't treat history the way it was taught to me at public school, which was learn it or stay after school. I think history can be fun.

How many are Toronto born? Let me do it the other way. How many are not Toronto born, but wish they were? Yes, look at them! I always like to do that before I start talking about the history of the city. Sometimes when I go out to some seniors groups there are people there that were there when these early maps were drawn. I have to be careful that I don't make up too much.

Anyway, I don't see anyone here old enough to remember when this map was done back in the 1600s. Although I haven't looked at everybody yet. This is one of the earliest maps of this general area, and what you see is a very early interpretation of Lac Ontario, or Lac du Frontenac, by the French. For some of you who may not know, one of my fascinations is why things are called what they are. Ontario is au Indian word for bright, shining water. In the old days it was bright, shining water. I'm not sure there's au Indian word for what you would call it today. But on the north shore of Lac Ontario you see a small clearing, which was called "Taiiagon" by the Mississauga Indians. Taiiagon was their way of talking about a place where they would gather to talk about hunting, or fishing, or the kinds of things they would want to know about. They would simply get together for a Taiiagon, or a meeting, and that is the word from which our present Toronto has come. There was also au Indian expression, very close to "Toronto," that meant trees standing in the water. That would represent the peninsula, or the island as it is today. There was also an Indian chief by the name of Doronto. Now maybe that's where the word Toronto came from.

We move up in time, to 1750, before anything really active happens in this area with the European settlers and the European military. Up to that time, the Mississauga Indians would traverse what we now call the Humber River (it was then called the Toronto Passage) coming down from the upper lakes, crossing Lake Ontario to trade with the British at a place called Fort au Swago. We now call it Oswego in New York State. The Indians would trade with the British. The French, who were in the country as well, didn't get along with the English in those days. The French were most upset that the Indians were bypassing them to trade with the English, so they built their own fort, which they originally called Fort Grie. It was located just to the west of the band shell at the exhibition grounds. Here you see it in its more accepted name, Fort Toronto. They simply grabbed onto the name by which the area was known and Fort Grie quickly became Fort Toronto. The year was 1750 and the French were able now to trade with the Indians travelling across the lake.

We all know about the Plains of Abraham in 1759. The French, realizing that they were about to lose some of their holdings in North America at that time, decided to set fire to Fort Toronto and in 1759 Fort Toronto disappears. That's really the end of European settlement in the area until the creation of what we originally called Upper Canada.

This is a rare view of what we had back in 1750 to 1759. There were nine fellows who worked with a boss; they looked after Fort Grie, and traded with the Indians. You may have noticed in the newspaper not too long ago that they have found the remains, or at least a portion of the remains, of the fort. When you go to the Exhibition this year, which I hope you all will do, go down towards the band shell and you will see stones laid out in the dimensions of the old French fort with quite an illustrative plaque. It's there to tell you that this was really the first European settlement in the Toronto area.

Now I mentioned the creation of Upper Canada in 1791. We needed a lieutenant-governor to look after the new province of Upper Canada. It was created because of the United Empire Loyalists streaming north from the States, wishing to reside under the care and protection of the King of England. So what was called "Canada" was split into Upper and Lower, Lower, of course, being Quebec and Upper becoming Ontario in 1867. John Graves Simcoe was selected to be our first lieutenantgovernor. When he got here, he realized that the capital, which was supposed to be at a place called Newark or Niagara-on-the -Lake, wasn't a very clever move because just across the river were the Americans.

John Graves Simcoe had been captured by the Americans in the Revolutionary War, and knew that the Americans were going to attack his new capital and his new province. So he decided to move away. He was actually heading toward what we now call London, Ontario, on the Thames River. His boss, Lord Dorchester, said, "No you're not, you're going to make it Kingston:" They set up what they called the Provisional Capital, a place called York. Now I say provisional because nobody really wanted it here, but you know, we'll put it here for a while and then we'll decide where in fact it will be. Well, as it turned out, of course, York became the full-time capital of the province of Upper Canada. It was one of those things that happened by chance, rather than planning.

This slide is one of the first sketches made of the new capital in 1803, looking along Front Street, in the vicinity of today's Jarvis Street. You can see how far inland the water came. In fact, next time you're travelling down Jarvis Street, or Front, or Bay, any of those streets, just south of Front as you dip on the roadway, or coming north, you rise up, and that is the shoreline of the old Toronto Bay. Everything south is fill.

This slide is an early map showing the layout of this community. Now, I should tell you that, while we were known as Toronto originally, the name York came about in a very strange and interesting political way. John Graves Simcoe realized that King George III and his family were the ones to patronize, because if you wanted your money to keep coming from England, you'd better look after the King. And so, he started naming the main thoroughfares after the King and his family. Thus, King Street for King George Ill.

Simcoe didn't like Indian words. Certainly Toronto was not a very pleasant word to his ears so he changed it to York. And the reason he changed it to York was that Frederick, the Duke of York, the second eldest son of King George III, had won a battle in Flanders over the French. That's all he needed. "I'm going to change the name to commemorate that particular fellow and make sure the money keeps coming from England." So, he changed the name from Toronto to York. We were fortunate because he could have changed it to "Freddie" This could have been the Town of Freddie. But instead, he decided to call it York, after his title name.

In this slide you see a very early sketch of what things looked like. Simcoe built a fort at the extreme west end of town that became Fort York. Across the way at Gibraltar Point, he built a blockhouse and by putting a cannon at the blockhouse, he guarded the entrance through the bay. You see there that the island is not an island, it's a peninsula. There is no way to get into the bay from the east end. So, Simcoe could protect that entrance, and he tucked his little town down in the crook of the bay.

That line that runs east-west under the sign York is a street that he called Lot Street, L-O-T. And he built 100-acre parcels of land, or park lots, running north from that, to entice the people at the old capital- of Newark, or Niagara-on-the-Lake, to come over and start living in the new capital. Simcoe would give them 100-acre parcels of land.

This slide shows how our present harbour was created. Here, you see the new concrete head wall behind which they were pumping the mud from the bottom of Toronto Bay to give it a 27-foot depth so that ships could come in through the proposed seaway, which was still many years in the future. The structure you see in the very centre of this view, with the twin stacks, is the John Street Pumping Station. That's the pumping station that is presently being moved 300 feet to the south, to enable them to complete construction of SkyDome. Those two stacks you see will be, I think, the pitcher's mound of SkyDome.

The circular building, or semicircular building, to the right of centre, is the CPR roundhouse. That's the one that I hope becomes a transportation museum soon, where we can tell the story of transportation in Ontario. Looking down at the waterfront is the Harbour Commission Building.

Here we are over at Harbourfront; most of you perhaps have seen this slide. They are building minesweepers at the foot of Spadina. That's now the site of King's Landing. But there you see some of the 52 minesweepers that were built at the old Dufferin Ship Building Yard. Then you can see the Royal York being one of the major structures on the skyline, the other being the Bank of Commerce Building which today you can't see. It's there, but you can't see it.

This was quite a port at one time. Here in this slide you see some of the lake boats. The Mayflower being one of the island ferries, Trillium tucked into the left, the Dalhousie, Macassa,

Terbinia, Cayuga, Corona, and so on, all of which operated out of Toronto Bay. Today that's all filled land.

Looking south, you see the Dalhousie, the Cayuga in the middle. One boat came in to Toronto in 1949 and caught fire one September night. The following morning, 119 people had burned to death. That was the Noronic. You can't take that picture today; Water Park Place is on that parking lot.

This slide shows the skyline of Toronto in 1920, the Queen City of the West ... Union Station, Harbour Commission Building, the Clock Tower of Old City Hall, the skyscraper heart of the city, the corner of Yonge and King.

I was fortunate enough in 1984 to be given a phone call as the Britannia came into the bay. This slide shows Britannia entering Toronto Bay in our sesquicentennial year. I was appointed to the Sesquicentennial Committee because I was one of the few in the city who could say Sesquicentennial! The Britannia and the city skyline in 1984, the Toronto of today. Thank you.

The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Catherine Chariton, Vice-Chairman of The Royal Commonwealth Society and Past President of The Club.

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Dominion of Canada Day Luncheon

A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Royal Commonwealth Society.
Some interesting facets of Canada's premier city, shown through slides. An historical photographic tour of Toronto.