Tag Archives: R. C. Harris Filtration Plant

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

Like us at http://www.facebook.com/hikingthegta

Follow us at http://www.hikingthegta.com

Also look for us on instagram

R. C. Harris Filtration Plant

Sunday May 31, 2015

It was cloudy with occasional light rain.  Having been downtown I decided to drive east to visit the so called Palace of Purification.  Otherwise known as the R. C. Harris Filtration Plant.

Roland Caldwell Harris became Toronto’s Commissioner of Works in 1912.  One of Harris’ first projects was the Prince Edward Viaduct which spans the Don River and connects Bloor Street to the Danforth.  Harris’ vision for the bridge included adding a lower deck for rail transport.  It was an addition that saved the city millions when the TTC opened the Bloor-Danforth line in 1966.  In 1913 Harris presented a vision for the Toronto Water Works Extension which was basically clean, safe drinking water for everyone.  The project got delayed due to the First World War and subsequent budget restraint. The city by-law to expropriate the Victoria Park site was repealed and the land didn’t come under city control until 1923.  When Harris saw the drawings for the buildings in February 1928 he declared them to be plain and unattractive.  The reworked design is what we have today and was recognized in 1992 as a National Historic Civil Engineering Site.  It is a grand civil structure built in the popular Art Deco style and set in a terraced park.  Built between 1932 and 1941 it had a major addition in the 1950’s.

Lake Ontario has about 1% of the earth’s surface fresh water.  It is Toronto’s only source of drinking water, but unfortunately, is frequently polluted by run-off and waste.  For this reason Harris envisioned an intake well out in the lake, 2.6 km from the shore.  Water is then bought in through the centre of the site by the pumps in the pump house.  Built in 1935 this building is the closest to the lake.


Inside the pump house the original pumps remain.


Outside, the swallows have built dozens of nests in the shelter of the stonework.


The service building with it’s alum tower stands just north of the pump house.  Water passes under the alum tower on its way to the filtration plant on the next terrace up the hill.  Alum is dropped into the water to help contaminants floc so that they will drop to the bottom of settling pools or be more easily filtered out in the filtration plant.


The picture below shows the terrace with it’s niche and bronze fountain.  Harris designed his architecture to be viewed and this is meant to be lined up with the long filtration plant on the terrace behind.


The main entrance to the filtration plant.  A stylized TWW (Toronto Water Works) adorns the wood right above the main door.  It also appears on either side of the arched windows.  The wing on the left was built in 1932 and was in use when the plant opened in 1941.  The wing on the right was added in the 1950’s.  Unlike most public buildings, the style wasn’t changed with the addition as a means of cost cutting.  Harris had supplied pipes and connections so that capacity could be easily doubled to nearly 1 billion litres per day.  Inside this building are 40 filtration beds where water is cleaned before being pumped to a network of reservoirs and water towers throughout the city.


Inside the filtration plant.  It’s no wonder it got the nick-name Palace of Purification.


Seawall construction in 1933.


Along the front of the facility there is a seawall that meets Lake Ontario.  It has a curved lip at the top to direct large waves back into the lake.


Just to the east the mouth of a storm drain opens onto the beach.  The concrete slabs that look like teeth are disipators designed to release energy from the water before dumping it on the beach.


Early Toronto had several grand parks that attracted people out for an afternoon’s leisure. Victoria Park was set on rolling hills at the water’s edge at the end of the street that bears its name. In the late 1870’s ferries from downtown began bringing passengers to enjoy the gardens. There were different rides available such as a steam powered carousel, donkeys and tethered balloons. A small zoo, dancehall and waterfront trails along with tight-rope walking displays completed the attraction to the park. It was bought out in 1899 and for a while there was an outdoor school and camp operated here. In 1927 the city bought the site and later chose it for its new water filtration plant. Aerial photos show a building on the beach at the east end of the site that was already in disrepair in 1947. By the 1980’s it had been demolished leaving only a few walls standing. The shot below looks out through a second story window opening onto the foundations on the beach below.


Meant to be viewed from the lake, the R.C. Harris Filtration plant can be seen with the 10 bays of the east wing stretching out to the right.



Don’t forget to visit http://www.facebook.com/hikingthegta