Parkdale Pumping Station

Sunday, October 31, 2021

As Toronto grew and its rivers and lakefront became increasingly polluted the city understood that it needed to ensure a good supply of clean water. In 1913 the newly appointed Commissioner of Public Works R. C. Harris presented his plan. It was called the “Report of the Commissioner of Works on Additions and Extensions to the Toronto Waterworks Pumping and Distribution Plant.” The plans were put on hold for the First World War and not revived until 1926 when the need was becoming increasingly urgent. The revised report called for the construction of a new water works at Victoria Park complete with filtration, reservoir and pumping facilities. We know it today as The R. C. Harris Filtration Plant. A large filtered water tunnel across the lakefront would link it to a pumphouse and surge tower at John Street and another set in Parkdale. A reservoir at St. Clair and Spadina with an overhead storage tank was proposed to serve the city as it expanded northward. Most of this work would be completed between 1930 and 1955 and although we’ve visited most of the infrastructure, and parkland that was created in the process, we’ve not looked at the Parkdale Pumping Station.

The dominant feature of the Parkdale Pumping Station is the Surge Tower. Thousands of people pass the tower on the Gardiner Expressway or Lake Shore Boulevard every day and at one time or another they’ve likely wondered about the Neo-Classical tower that stands just east of High Park. Two surge towers were built but only the Parkdale one survives. The one on John Street was octagonal in design but was demolished to make way for Skydome to be constructed in the 1980s. It has been replaced with an unimaginative structure which along with the Parkdale surge tower is used to maintain a constant pressure on the main water line. The round Parkdale tower is seen below and in the cover photo.

The pumphouse building in Parkdale is purely functional without a lot of ornamentation.It was completed in 1952 when city planners were driven by costs and public works were not seen as atristic statements.

A stylized TWW (Toronto Water Works) adorns the main entrance to the pump house.

The heart of the water system is the R. C. Harris Filtration Plant at the foot of Victoria Park Avenue. Four towers were designed on the network with the one here being known as the Alum Tower. Water passing under the tower has alum dropped into it which causes any contaminant to settle out in a process known as flocculation. More about the filtration plant and its architecture can be found at the link above and also at the end of this article.

Water is pumped to one of several reservoirs located around the city. The Spadina Reservoir was the first part of the Toronto Water Works Extension to be completed with work finishing in 1930. At the time, a water tower was planned so that water pressure could be maintained during a power outage. Cutbacks brought on by the Depression meant that the tower was never built, however the footings were constructed and now form a circle in the park land on the top of the reservoir.

The image below was drawn in CAD using the original design documents and shows what the tower would have looked like if constructed. It was taken from “Toronto’s Tower Of Pure Water” by Steven Mannell.

The Yorkville Water Works originally supplied water to the small community just to the north of Toronto. When Yorkville was amalgamated with the city, the water works were expanded and renamed the High Level Pumping Station. In 1952 it was expanded again, this time to become the control centre for the entire city network. It controls the water from 4 water treatment plants, 18 pumping stations, 10 underground reservoirs and 4 water towers.  These in turn supply water to over 3 million people. To read how a small town water supply became the organizational heart of the Toronto Water Works Expansion check out the link above.

The Parkdale Surge Tower is a visible reminder of the ambitious public works project that now supplies water to nearly 20% of the people in Ontario. The tower doesn’t have a large public park like other parts of the water delivery system, but High Park and Sir Casimir Gzowski Park are nearby.

Related Blogs: R. C. Harris Filtration Plant, Spadina Reservoir, Yorkville Water Works

Google Maps Link: Parkdale Pumping Station

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