The Art of Clean Water

If you were standing at the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto and headed east on the Queen St. Streetcar, at the end of the line, about 8 or 9 km later, you would reach the RC Harris Water Treatment Plant.

Harris Water Plant 5

You probably wouldn’t really notice it at first because it is hidden behind a large green fence, but behind that fence is a massive Art Deco complex built in the late 1930s and later designated as a heritage site.

Harris Water Plant 9
Front of the main building as seen from the roadway between the main and lower building

While most buildings have their frontage facing the road, the RC Harris Water Treatment Plant changed the rules.  It faces Lake Ontario – and that face is pretty spectacular.

Harris Water Plant 3
Main building containing the filter pools

This past weekend was the 19th Annual Open Doors Toronto featuring over 100 of the “most architecturally, historically, culturally and socially significant buildings across the city”.*

This building has been on my radar for years.  I’ve done more than my fair share of travelling around the world and I no longer take it for granted how lucky we are to turn on a tap and have abundant, clean, drinkable water.

I finally got a chance to see the water treatment plant up close.

Harris Water Plant 6
Little brass doors like the ones on the bottom of this large clock / control console, could be found on all the control consoles at each filtering pond

For a building with a utilitarian purpose, this one is an unusual work of art composed in marble and polished brass.

I wish I could say the same thing about its doors.  Sadly …. utilitarian.

Harris water plant - door

Just lots of plain green doors, although with a few interesting signs.

Harris Water Plant 11
Sign on the door leading into the pump room.  Yes, it was very loud.

This is the largest of 4 water treatment plants servicing the city and RC Harris has a capacity of 950 million litres of clean water EVERY DAY.

Harris Water Plant 8
Behind each panel of windows is a water filtering pool – some full, some empty.  This is about half of one corridor.  Two corridors in total.

A separate building containing the pumps that drive the whole system is located below the main building.

Harris Water Plant 4
Lower building containing the pump room

I almost didn’t bother to visit this building.  I mean, after all, it’s basically an engine room.  How interesting could it be?

Well, what can I say … I was even more impressed.  I’ve never seen an engine room that was so spotlessly immaculate.  At first I thought the floors were wet, until I realized they weren’t.  They just gleamed.

Harris Water Plant 13
The lower level of the pump room
Harris Water Plant 10
The upper level of the pump room

I questioned one of the workers if it was always this pristine and he said pretty well yes.

Harris Water Plant 12
Even the brass railings were spotless and polished to a shine.

I guess when your business is purifying water, the facilities better reflect that philosophy of clean.

*************************************************************************************

Thursday Doors is a weekly photo feature hosted by Norm Frampton at Norm 2.0.

* Quote from BlogTO

119 comments

    • Thanks Teagan. Yes – the wedding has happened and it was perfect 🙂
      June is turning out to be even more of a whirlwind than May. Hopefully some day I’ll get to write about it!

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  1. Hi Joanne! What a magnificent building–and for a water-treatment plant as well. How great that you were able to visit it (and take such great photos too!) I live right down the street from Palm Springs so we have tons of art deco and lots of mid-century modern but nothing as amazing as that. Makes me want to come visit Toronto one of these days. ~Kathy

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    • I’ve lived in Toronto for almost 40 years, but it wasn’t until I retired that I started to explore and learn about the city I lived in. It’s been quite the eye-opener. It’s now a passion and the more I seek out new treasures, the more beauty I find.
      I guess that’s an analogy of life. We often fail to notice what is under our own noses.

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  2. Joanne having just been chatting with you on my blog about the horrific unclean water of Tonle Sap Cambodia, this post brings extra meaning. so much beautiful clean water being produced here. The building is a beautiful architectural statement. I love when cities have these open door events. Sadly for the past two years we have been out of town.

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    • We live in a country with an abundance of fresh clean water. We swim in it, we shower in it, we drink unquestioningly from the tap. We take it for granted … until we go somewhere that makes us realize what riches we have.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The architecture is lovely, but the colors really make it, don’t they? Such an unusual and interesting color. Also, I’m partial to yellow.
    It’s such a shame that so many wonderful buildings have utilitarian doors. Of course, in this case, it’s good the building’s even still around!
    Love that clock, and the elevator details — such style. Love Deco 🙂

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    • I love Art Deco too. It was quite controversial at the time because of its clean lines compared to classic styling, but I think that’s what I like about it … and yes, I’m partial to yellow buildings too!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This was an amazing place, Joanne! I like the way the country kept this gorgeous building. It is rare that it is still being used for its original purpose.
    The arches, lemon yellow and white details make it very visible and so cool it faces travelers on Lake Ontario.
    I’m so glad it has been designated a historical landmark. I am still so in awe of their using Art Deco period for a water treatment plant.
    The clock with brass tiny doors at the base was my very favorite part. Thanks for such a fascinating post for Thursday Doors, Joanne.
    Blessings were sent up into the universe for the happily wedded couple! ❤️❤️

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  5. Excellent photos, especially that polished engine room! I can see why, as the sign says, it’s also known as the “palace of purification”. I have a friend who works in a water treatment plant here (in Australia) – I wonder if her workplace is this impressively well-kept!
    Do you know what those numbers above the green double doors are? Reminded me of an old-style elevator, but that couldn’t be it…

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  6. I think we had an Open Doors event here awhile ago but I was traveling and, sadly, missed it. Big Darn! I love, love Art Deco and would have been thrilled to tour this building. Such elegance and style… often missing from buildings built after the 40s.

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    • So much of what is being built together is ugly, big box stuff … build as quickly as possible for the least amount of cost. The idea of building something as a legacy seems to be lost. I wonder if future generations will look at buildings from this time period with the same wonder that we have looking at those of the past.

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  7. The Victorians built some impressive utilitarian buildings – some of which have been turned into homes, yes, including pump stations. Nice to see an Art Deco one too. And how immaculate it is inside. Thanks for the visit Jo, though a shame about the doors 🙂

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  8. The clocks and engine room are wonderful! I can’t think of a damn I’ve visited that had a building as nice looking as this one, such a spotless looking pump room, or a water treatment facility either.

    You do find the most interesting buildings and doors!

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  9. It was really neat to see this spot, Joanne. I love knowing what’s behind those closed doors. It seems almost otherworldly that everything would be so polished and gleaming – as if a stage set is being created for all time.

    I have yet to attend any Open Doors events although they’re held in my area too. I really must go – it’s such a cool idea. But, like you, I detest crowds and lineups. They wouldn’t be as long as in Toronto, though, and they’re on different weekends from the Toronto one, so maybe I can twist your arm to come out here and we’ll go together some year 🙂

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    • Oh! I love that idea! Trust me, there would be no arm twisting involved! Open Doors Toronto is always held on such an awkward weekend for me because of family commitments – otherwise damn the crowds, I would be filling my dance card. There is just something special about getting a chance to peek behind doors that are otherwise closed. I’ll just have to be content with selecting one location each year.

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  10. I went there for last year’s Doors Open Toronto – I’d been meaning to go for years so last year a friend and I drove over really early so that we were the first group through the doors. I was also truly impressed with how clean it was and how beautiful. No wonder it was known as “The Palace of Purity”.

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    • That’s exactly what I did too, Margie. I was there when the doors opened and it was wonderful to walk around with only a handful of other people.

      I was also super impressed that they had setup a port-a-potty station outside and a water truck. It was so hot and humid, even for that early morning start, I’m sure many people were happy for it!

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  11. I have always admired our neighbors to the north because you do lots of stuff first class including the labeling of food. That is near and dear because my grandson has food allergies. But, this water treatment plant is truly amazing. This place looks cleaner and more polished than most homes or restaurants. Impressive.

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    • It was definitely cleaner than my home!! Too much to do in the summer than spend time cleaning my house 😉

      I thought the US was a leader in food labelling. I would imagine that having a loved one with a serious food allergy is rather frightening when dealing with unknown foods.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. The building is impressive. I love that the engine room is pristine. My brother-in-law works at a water treatment plant. I’m know a lot work goes into our blessing of turning on the tap and having water flow out. 🙂

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    • I had never really given much thought to the process of cleaning water and was rather surprised to discover it’s a jacked-up version of swimming pool filtration – including the need for backwashing the filter. I wish I had actually seen that process in action.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Wow! You could eat off that pump room floor. What a cool building, Joanne. Way nicer than any water-treatment facility I’ve ever seen. I’m so glad you got a chance to go there and share some pics. I like the idea of an Open Doors Day. I still want to move to Canada! Ha ha.

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  14. the business does reflect the property of clean – and what a great door post.

    side note – did you get a new blog theme? I really like the ease of use and the blue trim.
    what theme is this?>

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    • I’m actually rather fond of yellow stone but it often gets so dirty and discoloured over time. I can’t tell whether it’s been cleaned, or whether its location by the water somehow keeps the stone clean.
      I really like yellow combined with gray, but admittedly have never seen it on walls before. What really pops for me is the dark green trim … especially in the pump room.

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  15. At first glance, it seemed like a simple, basic structure… but wow! What a lovely building with all those arches, and the nice yellowish color of contrasting bricks. Thanks for giving us a peek inside, Joanne. Cool place. Hugs!

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  16. Wow Joanne, what an architecturally beautiful building! I sure hope the employees there get full marks for the obvious care of this structure!

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  17. Love this post, Joanne!! Photographs are gorgeous, as always. I was lucky to go visit the plant 3-4 years ago as part of Doors Open and loved every bit of my time there. Unfortunately we had already walked a LOT that day so could not do full justice to this awesome building. So thank you for the details snaps. Plus it was really packed with people. We are very fortunate indeed to get fresh, clean water on tap sooo easily every day.

    Have a lovely day.

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    • At first I was disappointed that I had the time to visit only one place, but now that I hear about the crowds, maybe I should be grateful. I was there when the doors opened and there was only a handful of people in the building the entire time I was there.

      Did you go to any Open Door locations this year?

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  18. Joanne–your photos are gorgeous! What a beautiful building. You had me at Art Deco. I am so glad you visited this place. Imagine working in such a pristine atmosphere….heaven.

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    • Another Art Deco fan! 🙂

      All the people I talked to at RC Harris were so friendly and willing to answer questions. I guess that being there early in the morning when there were no crowds kind of helped 😉
      The guy in the pump room acknowledged that they worked extra hard to polish up the place for Open Doors but it was kept very clean on a regular basis. He smiled ruefully when he agreed that after all the fingerprints are left behind from the Open Doors event, they will have extra cleaning to do again 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Thank you so much for sharing this., I love touring facilities like this! I think the people who work in these places must have such a sense of pride, knowing how important their job is and how well they do it. It’s not surprising to see that they keep it spotless.

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    • I love touring production facilities too … although water purification isn’t exactly action packed. Sadly, we weren’t allowed into the filter pool rooms … I can’t imagine why 😉 … and my photos taken through the glass windows were rather dull.
      However the awesome building made up for it!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Wow what an impressive place. I can only imagine all of the engineering and planning that goes into designing a building like this. No question it’s something that so many of us take for granted.
    You got some great shots in this collection; the pump room shots are definitely my favourites.

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  21. Wow! Your treatment plants are way nicer than ours! Absolutely stunning!

    I’ve also travelled in places that make me appreciate easy access to clean water. Recently a number of public water fountains, including the one I use on regular runs, have been shut off because of unacceptable levels of lead in the water. It’s just an inconvenience for us. Imagine that (and worse) being your only access to water?

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    • Exactly, Heather. We are lucky and privileged in some of the most basic ways – clean water, healthcare, schooling, food.

      I’ve never visited another water treatment plant, but I suspect this one is an anomaly. It was intended to be a showcase for public works and inspire confidence in the water supply. I can’t imagine something like this being built now!

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    • All the polished brass and marble is a wow … something you would never see being built today for a water plant! That clock is so interesting. It’s actually a control panel too and there’s no question it’s eye-catching!!

      I don’t know whether it’s a case of being used to the water where you live, but I’ve always liked Toronto water and I’ve never thought twice about drinking tap water. In fact it feels odd to go somewhere and be warned not to drink the water.

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  22. i have to get to Open Doors one of these years. I read a post a year or two ago where they used the building as a restaurant. It might have been during Doors Open. Simply magnificent.

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    • The timing of Open Doors every year is actually very inconvenient for me because of family commitments. I’ve only gone twice – last year and this year – and have had the time to visit only 1 site. I spend weeks trying to decide which one it’ll be 😕
      I love the Open Doors idea. I try to arrive first thing in the morning when they open. I’ve heard the lineups at some locations can get pretty long.

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  23. I love Art Deco buildings and this is a beautiful example. The floors of the pump room are so shiny at first I thought they were flooded with water. Beautiful work Joanne 🙂

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    • Thanks Joe. I agree about Art Deco. There’s an elegance in the clean lines that was in direct contrast to the fussiness of classic architecture.

      It really is too bad the pump room was so noisy. I would have liked to spend more time in there.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. It is a pretty impressive place. We saw it last year at Doors Open. I found Doors Open to be especially crowded this year.

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    • This was only my 2nd excursion to Open Doors, and the only location I was able to visit. I went first thing in the morning when the doors opened and was amazed there were only a handful of people there. There were certainly many more when I left, but the place is so large, it would take a LOT of people to feel crowded.

      What locations did you visit this year?

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  25. Wow! What a place! I’m surprised it hasn’t been used in any movie shoots. Or maybe it has? (I’m not up on these things, obviously). Thanks for visiting and sharing this with us, Joanne!

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    • Apparently it has been used in movie shoots although I admit I don’t really recognize any of the names with the exception of Orphan Black.

      The first time I saw the building, I thought it was an old fort and was surprised to learn it was a water treatment plant.
      This visit last weekend was the first time I actually saw the front of the building. It’s huge and imposing and worth the visit!

      Liked by 1 person

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