R. C. Harris Filtration Plant

The R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, is both a crucial piece of infrastructure and an architecturally acclaimed historic building named after the long time commissioner of Toronto's public works R.C. Harris. It is located in the east of the city at the eastern end of Queen Street and at the foot of Victoria Park Avenue along the shore of Lake Ontario in the Beaches neighbourhood.


With an early 20th century Toronto plagued with water shortages and unclean drinking water, public health advocates such as George Nasmith and Toronto's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Charles Hastings, campaigned for a modern water purification system.

The structure was constructed on the former site of Victoria Park, a waterfront amusement park that operated until 1906. Construction on the plant began in 1932 and the building became operational on November 1st, 1941. The building, unlike most modern engineering structures, was also created to make an architectural statement. Fashioned in the Art Deco style, the cathedral-like structure remains one of Toronto's most admired buildings. It is, however, little known to outsiders. The interiors are just as opulent with marble entryways and vast halls filled with pools of water and filtration equipment. The plant has thus earned the nickname The Palace of Purification.


Despite its age, the plant is still fully functional, providing approximately 45% of the water supply for Toronto and the Region of York. The intakes are located over 2.6 kilometres (1.6 mi) from shore in 15 metres (49 ft) of water, running through two pipes under the bed of the lake. Water is also chlorinated in the plant and then pumped to various reservoirs throughout the City of Toronto and the Region of York. In 1992, the plant was named a national historic civil engineering site by the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering.


The facility grounds have been made available to the public. Despite some concerns of vulnerability to an attack on the water supply since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the grounds have remained open to the public, but security has been increased. In the summer of 2007, construction began on the installation of an underground Residual Management Facility allowing process waste to be removed before discharging into the lake. As a result of this project, the grounds are under heavy construction and are only partially publicly accessible.


The R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1998. The plant appeared on a stamp issued by Canada Post in 2011, in a series showcasing five notable Art Deco buildings in Canada.

Appearance in popular culture

The R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant has been used in dozens of films and television series as a prison, clinic, or headquarters.

  • The building of the plant is vividly recounted in Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion
  • The headquarters of "The Man" in the 2002 comedy Undercover Brother
  • A prison in the 1998 comedy Half Baked
  • An asylum in the 1995 horror film In the Mouth of Madness
  • "The Centre", a nefarious think tank in the television series The Pretender
  • Base of operations for Genomex, an antagonistic corporation in the television series Mutant X
  • The Elsinore Brewery in the 1983 film Strange Brew
  • The Henry Ford Centre for the Criminally Insane, as seen in Robocop: The Series
  • The Langstaff Maximum Security Prison, as seen in Flashpoint (TV series) in the episode Just a Man

Building Activity

  • removed a media and updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via OpenBuildings.com
  • updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via Annotator