Toronto Feature: R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant

Palace of Purification

This text is from the free Toronto in Time app, which was created by The Canadian Encyclopedia and is available from the App Store and the Google Play store. Visit its companion website, which is linked below, to explore all the features of the app online.

"Harris dreamed the marble walls, the copper-banded roofs," wrote Michael ONDAATJE in his novel In the Skin of a Lion. "Harris" was Roland Caldwell Harris, and as Commissioner of Works he directed most of the major public projects built in TORONTO during his tenure (1912-1945), including the Bloor Viaduct. The R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant bears his name.

Harris admired striking architecture, and his architect, Thomas Canfield Pomphrey, designed an art deco masterpiece in brick, limestone and copper. "He modeled its entrance," wrote Ondaatje, "on a Byzantine city gate, and the inside of the building would be an image of the ideal city." The eight-hectare plant grounds are open year-round, while the marble-clad interiors are usually accessible during Doors Open Toronto.

The plant became operational in 1941 and today can produce nearly one billion litres of drinking water per day--nearly 40% of Toronto's tap water.