“Pride and passion in Canada’s transit heritage”

Recollections of Mike Filey

Mike Filey (right) and the tour tram operator check the track gauge during a TTC tram tour with Peter Witt car 2894.
Photo date: November 19, 1979. Photo: Ted Wickson.

 

By Ted Wickson

 

Mike Filey, born October 11, 1941, passed away peacefully at home, on July 30, 2022.  Well known for his interest in the TTC and its streetcars, he was also the consummate local historian with many diverse interests.  He always had an affection for Toronto’s streetcars and came to their defence often, best exemplified by his active involvement in the Streetcars for Toronto Committee and Save the Mt. Pleasant Streetcar neighbourhood group in the early 1970s.  “Mike Filey was a guardian of Toronto’s history who always helped put the present into perspective,” recalls Mayor John Tory.  Former Metro Chairman and current Postmedia Chair Paul Godfrey adds. “He was one of the most likeable people ever….he knew everything about Toronto [and] loved the city more than just about anybody else.”

Readers may ask, how I first got to know Mike.  Of course, it had to do with old photos of Toronto’s streetcars, needed for the first of his many books published on old Toronto.  In 1969, he approached Harry Pettett, TTC’s General Secretary, with a request to obtain photos from the TTC Archives as it was then.  I was curator of the “glass plate” collection and corresponding contact prints, about 15,000 images in all, plus stock contemporary photos.  Harry Pettett gave the directive to the P.R. Department (of which the Advertising & Publicity Section was a part), “Please give Mike all the support you can with photo requests for his first book and ANY FUTURE BOOK PROJECTS Mike may contemplate.”  Well, 45 years later Mike was still turning out books, including many recent titles in the “Toronto Sketches” series, compiled from his regular column “The Way We Were” in the Sunday Sun newspaper.

When TTC’s Belt Line Tour Tram service was launched in 1973 using Peter Witts 2766 and 2894, Mike assisted greatly in vetting the itinerary and script used by the on-board guide.  Following TTC’s cancellation of this service, a private operator continued the tour service, usually combined with a brunch beforehand.  Mike was retained as on board guide and speaker to tour customers at the restaurant or hotel.  TTC also requested Mike to speak on special occasions, held usually in the Grand Ballroom of the Royal York Hotel.

Mike invited me to several civic and historical events.  I credit him as being the driving force behind the major restoration and rebuilding of Metro Parks Dept. ferry, “Trillium”, a 1910 paddle steamer previously operated by the Toronto Ferry Co. and TTC.  In 1975, I joined Mike at the Port Colborne shipyard to see the progress of this major refit.  Then, in 1976, I received a special invitation to the unveiling and re-launch of the “Trillium” in Toronto Harbour.  Lots of pomp and ceremony.

In the late 1970s, when Canada’s Wonderland theme park was being planned by owner Great West Life, Mike was hired as P.R. Manager.  In 1980 he hired me to do all documentary photography of the construction, up to its official opening in May 1981.  Aerial photos were also needed once a month; Maple Airport was across the street from the park (now a housing development).  TTC at the time was on a compressed work week which allowed me to visit the site once every two weeks.

Following my 8-year stint as Coupler Magazine editor in 1989, I advocated for a formal TTC Archives to be established.  If it were not for Mike Filey, Nancy Hurn (Metro Toronto Director of Records and Archives), and many other politicians and influential people, who Mike and Nancy had approached, the TTC Archives would not have been created.  Last hurdle was obtaining approval from Chief General Manager Al Leach, soon achieved.  This was at the time of a local economic downturn and sliding ridership and budget cuts, soon made worse by a hiring freeze and reduction the overall TTC workforce by 10%.

I’ve known Mike’s wife Yarmila from the start.  Her kind hospitality over the years is fondly remembered.  She was employed at Sun Life Canada’s University and Richmond Branch.  Through her, my late first wife, Andra, was successful in being hired at this branch in 1978.  I mention this Sun Life building for a photo shoot I did from the roof with assistance from Mike Filey.  On March 31, 1972, the 1822 heritage home of Sir William Campbell was floated to its present location at the north-west corner of Queen and University.  A small fleet of TTC and Toronto Hydro overhead trucks preceded the move, lifting any offending wires along the route from Adelaide and Frederick.  It was a slow process—about 3 feet per minute.  I had taken earlier photos at street level but Mike arranged the bird’s eye vantage from the Sun Life building.  Although there was a low parapet around the roof, to get the best camera view I had to lean over it.  Mike had a firm grip on my legs, as someone (Yarmila?) used my slide camera to record this memorable event.  Ample time to take both b&w and slide views from the roof.

Although Mike was never a CTHF member, he did support the Foundation in many references to the good work it does, most recently a good plug for the T&W book.

I remember Mike as sometimes being a little cynical in his accounts of the follies of past and present City Councils.  He was both amusing and deadpan.  His common salutation when I phoned or met up with him wherever was, “It’s Wickson, Ted.”  Lots of good memories.