Roland Caldwell Harris was probably TORONTO’s most dynamic Commissioner of Public Works. A century after he was appointed, the MARKET GALLERY, on the second floor of the South St. Lawrence Market, has opened a major exhibition of his achievements, which we’re still enjoying to this day. Under R. C. Harris, TORONTO built its bridges, hundreds of kilometres of roads, miles of streetcar tracks, sidewalks and sewer lines.
His two major achievements: constructing the Prince Edward Viaduct, and wisely adding a rapid transit subway deck decades before it was needed, and the R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant with its stunning art deco interior, on Lake Ontario’s shoreline. Today, this facility still purifies 40% of TORONTO’s drinking water, and has recently been restored and modernized.
You might mistake this industrial plant for a museum, in its park setting at the eastern end of the Queen streetcar line. Indeed, the elegant interior’s cavernous halls and marble passages have earned the building a nickname: Palace of Purification. It has appeared in several movies and television series – as a lair for corporate villainy (The Pretender, Undercover Brother, Mutant X), a prison (Half Baked, Flashpoint), a mental asylum (In the Mouth of Madness, RoboCop: The Series), and a brewery (Strange Brew).
BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOS – City of Toronto Archives; COLOUR PHOTOS – Brendan Ross http://www.throughtoronto.com
The man himself, in 1933. “The Water Czar: R. C. Harris Works for Toronto 1912-1945″ at the Market Gallery, is open Tuesday to Friday 10am-4pm, and Saturday 9am – 4pm.