RC Harris Water Filtration Plant

Architectural photographer Amanda Large’s year-long look at Canada’s iconic water temple.

In 1932, construction began on the water filtration plant and pumping station at Victoria Park in Toronto. Designed by architect Thomas Canfield Pomphrey and engineers Gore, Nasmith and Storrie, it contained forty filtration beds, making it the city’s largest facility for cleaning and disinfecting water drawn from Lake Ontario, for a safe to use as drinking water. By the time it was completed, in 1941, it was known as “the Palace of Purification”. A few years later it was renamed in honor of Ronald Caldwell Harris, the visionary Commissioner of Works who designed the plant.

For a year, architectural photographer Amanda Large documented the buildings and grounds of the RC Harris Wastewater Treatment Plant. “I wanted to spend time revisiting a place over and over again, getting to know how it changes in light and with the seasons,” says Large, who first discovered the plant when an architecture professor attributed the novel by Michael Ondaatje In the skin of a lion. His photographs, taken with film, digital cameras, drones and Polaroids, capture the enduring architecture of the factory, but also its continued life as a working facility and a place integral to life. from the city.

Public access to the RC Harris factory was closed after 9/11, but its lakeside grounds remain open to the public. Its popularity among locals has increased during pandemic shutdowns. Large took this photo on Boxing Day 2020, when she took her children tobogganing in the field. “It was gray when we left the house,” Large recalls, “and then this magical light materialized out of nowhere.”
The southern structure of the site houses a series of water filtration beds, a technology that has changed little since the plant was established nearly a hundred years ago. The lack of mechanical systems means the space is almost eerily quiet. “Other parts of the buildings are quite noisy, but these pools are quiet,” says Large. “It feels like a meditative, almost sacred place.”
Large expected the factory grounds to be deserted at night, but found they were busy with groups of people lounging on the grass and socializing in the welcome cool summer evenings. This photo was taken just after 10 p.m., when the site closes for the evening and security guards usher everyone out.

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