Toronto Feature: R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant

This article is from our Toronto Feature series. Features from past programs are not updated.

This article is from our Toronto Feature series. Features from past programs are not updated.

This content is from a series created in partnership with Museum Services of the City of Toronto and Heritage Toronto. We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, and the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Harris Filtration Plant, 2012
The Harris Filtration Plant produces nearly 40% of Toronto's tap water (photo James Marsh).

Toronto Feature: R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant

Palace of Purification

"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.