Palace of Purification

1941

2701 Queen St. E.

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“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 Filtration Plant, 1952 (courtesy City of Toronto Archives/Series 372, Sub-series 72, Item 2033).

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 per cent of Toronto’s tap water.

By James Marsh

Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for more on Toronto.

Harris Filtration Plant, 1952 (courtesy City of Toronto Archives/Series 372, Sub-series 72, Item 2033). View the image gallery