By Lori Bosworth
Ever since I read Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, I have been eager to visit the fabled R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant at the most easterly section of the Beaches and I had an opportunity to do so during Doors Open Toronto 2014. The Queen Street East plant was one of the infrastructures that provided historical reference in Ondaatje’s historical fiction work because 1) it was built by many of Toronto’s early immigrants and 2) it symbolized Toronto’s transition from the Industrial Age to a more modern era.
We ventured early to the R.C. Harris Plant on Sunday, May 25, 2014 since we were anticipating a large crowd at the facility, which is rarely open to the public. A Doors Open Toronto representative confirmed that over 3,000 people had visited the treatment centre on Saturday, the first day of Doors Open.
The R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant sits on a glorious piece of land with an almost 180° view of Lake Ontario. A stunning example of Art Deco style, the plant features geometric shapes including the polygon-shaped ceiling dome, lavish ornamentation including Black & Gold and Notre Dame marble walls and beige and black terrazzo floors.
The gorgeous clock is the centrepiece of the lobby at the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant Filter Building.
The water treatment centre is by no means obsolete; the plant is responsible for providing 45% of the water supply for Toronto and York Region. Water is drawn from Lake Ontario at over 2.6 kilometres from the shore, then filtered, chlorinated and distributed to various reservoirs in the GTA.
The water treatment plant is named after R.C. Harris, who was Toronto’s Commissioner of Public Works for over 30 years. Under his oversight, the Prince Edward Viaduct and the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant were built. Demonstrating futuristic thinking, Harris’s viaduct included a lower deck for trains that were not introduced until 45 years later.
Check out the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant if you get a chance. The building is a remarkable testament to Toronto’s forefathers (and mothers).