Arguably the most significant piece of Art Deco-style architecture in the City of Toronto, the sprawling R.C Harris Water Treatment plant has gotten used to being the star of the show of the annual Doors Open Toronto programming. This year's event took place on May 28th, and invited the public into its historic marble-clad halls. The water management compound captures the hearts of attendees whenever it is on the annual event's roster of signature spaces across the city, but what Doors Open doesn’t offer is the chance to see it all from a more elevated perspective as well. 

Putting our phone cameras and video drone to work, we made our way to R.C Harris on Doors Open day to document the iconic plant from inside and above, capturing the full breadth of the bucolic lakeside site and its collection of architectural gems. Check out our video tour below!

From our aerial vantage point, the astounding scale of the facility is impossible to ignore. The buildings, perched at various levels on the dramatically sloping site, occupy a massive footprint. Looking closer at the main building’s roof, we can see the immense number of skylights that fill the interior spaces with natural light. 

It’s also clear from above how the programming of the site overall is its own unique composition. The three buildings make up only a small portion of the total site area, while a network of paths create winding pedestrian routes that celebrate the unrivaled lake views, making the whole site feel almost like a sculpted urban park. 

Looking out at the lake views seen from the site of the plant, image by UrbanToronto Forum contributor David Capizzano

Inside, we were able to catch a glimpse of some of the plant’s signature design features, like the centrepiece clock that is the epitome of Art Deco design, and the lofty stairways and halls decorated with marble and massive windows. Revisiting the archive of images from Open Doors past, photos from a number of UT Forum photographers capture the interiors in vivid detail.  

The stylish Art Deco grandfather clock found inside the plant, image by UrbanToronto Forum contributor kotsy

Designed by Scottish Architect Thomas Canfield Pomphrey and named after storied Public Works Commissioner Roland Caldwell Harris (responsible for transformative Toronto structures like the Bloor Viaduct), the filtration plant began construction in 1932, and was completed almost a decade later, in 1941. One of four major water treatment plants in Toronto, and the oldest of the lot, R.C Harris provides an average of 400 million litres of clean drinking water to Toronto every day, presiding over about 40% of our water. Enjoying a massive filtration output coupled with its standout design, the plant has come to be known colloquially as the ‘Palace of Purification’. 

The opulent interior features extensive marble detailing, image by UrbanToronto Forum contributor kotsy

The last two decades have seen a number of large-scale revitalization works undertaken to preserve both the architectural elements as well as the updating of the filtration systems. A 19-year conservation effort was completed in 2013, which saw the rehabilitation of the building envelope, while more recently, the water basins were rehabilitated by the City in 2017. 

R.C Harris Water Treatment Plant, one of Toronto's iconic Art Deco buildings, image by Randy Hoffman

If you missed your chance to walk these historic Art Deco halls at this year’s Doors Open, don’t worry, R.C Harris should open up for the event again next spring! The grounds are also free to enjoy any day of the week, year round. 

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