Toronto Sketches 9: "The Way We Were."


238 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations
ISBN 978-1-55002-613-5
DDC 971.3'541






Reviewed by Janet Arnett

Janet Arnett is the former campus manager of adult education at Ontario’s Georgian College. She is the author of Antiques and Collectibles: Starting Small, The Grange at Knock, and 673 Ways to Save Money.



For more than 25 years, Filey has been popularizing Toronto history with informal columns written for the Toronto Sun newspaper. This is the ninth volume of these sketches to be published in book form.


The collection consists of 77 columns, written in 2003–04, each accompanied by a photo or two from Toronto’s past. The topics are wide-ranging, touching on subjects from the mid-1850s to 1970s. There’s a brief history of Canada’s largest liquor store, profiles of past city mayors, a look at the founding of CNIB, and a nostalgic remembrance of the opening of the Eaton Centre. Firsts receive considerable ink: the first telephone, the first windmill, the first subway, the purchaser of Canada’s first used car. Specific buildings and locations within the city also merit a sketch: Sunnyside Amusement Park, the Royal York Hotel, the CPR roundhouse, Maple Leaf Gardens, and Joy gas stations. Events covered include the 1895 and 1904 fires, Marilyn Bell’s swim of Lake Ontario, the building of the subway, and the opening of a Tim Hortons.


Each column, or sketch, is very brief, focusing in on an isolated tidbit from the city’s past. Some are based on Filey’s own memories while others are the result of archival research prompted by current events. The most appealing compare two photos of the same location — a “then and now” look that highlights changes to architecture, cars, and streetscapes.


Although the sketches are brief to the point of being superficial, they harbour a scattering of the kind of specific facts that bring history to life. (For example, before 1897 it was illegal to run a streetcar on Sunday.)


By serving up the past in small bites, Filey makes it approachable and easy to absorb. The result is a work that will appeal to Torontonians — residents, ex-residents, and visitors — who would not stick with a traditional history.


Filey, Mike., “Toronto Sketches 9: "The Way We Were.",” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,