Friday, 26 September 2008

Review 1

By Andrew Hagner, P.Eng., Senior Geotechnical Engineer, Associate, Golder Associates Ltd.

On September 25, 2008 I had the pleasure of attending a technical visit to the R.C. Harris Treatment Plant in Scarborough, Ontario. As one of its Fall events, PEO Scarborough Chapter sponsored this visit to Toronto’s largest water treatment facility.

The participants gathered at the main entrance to the plant and were greeted by Ms. Ranee Mahalingham, P.Eng. of PEO Scarborough Chapter and Mr. Ron Brilliant, P.Eng., our technical guide and R.C. Harris Treatment Plant manager. Following few very short comments on organizational and health and safety matters the plant tour commenced at approximately 2 p.m.

Technically, the R.C. Harris Treatment Plant is a typical municipal water treatment plant which uses well established processes from initial screening of large particles, pre-chlorination, flocculation, settling of the flocs, filtration through gravel/sand/carbon/anthracite columns and finally through chlorination and fluoridation. Sodium bisulphite is added to control the chlorine levels leaving the facility and finally ammonia is added to stabilize the residual chlorine prior to releasing the now drinking water into the water distribution system. As Ron guided the participants through the plant and its various treatment facilities, he thoughtfully timed the tour such that we could observe one of the filters during the backwash process.

Architecturally, the plant is a truly impressive structure initially constructed in 1930's Art Deco style. The buildings and interiors are well maintained and preserved and in 1992 were designated a national historic civil engineering site. The architectural beauty of the facility even brings accolades from European visitors. Although, initially considered by some to be a somewhat extravagant expenditure for what essentially is an industrial facility, the plant has proved itself an excellent investment in time. The city politicians and designers at the time constructed the plant with future on their mind which continues to perform well some 70 years after the time of initial construction. Ron stressed the quality of the original plant equipment (pumps and valves in particular), which continue to perform well (possibly better than currently available equipment) with only regular maintenance required. Ron said that the "extravagant" finish of some of the interiors in marble and brass seems to be paying dividends today in relatively low maintenance costs. It appears that even in today's fiscally conservative environment, the same spirit of forward vision continues to guide the designers in the recently completed upgrades to the plant. The tour participants were shown spaces for future uses, which were constructed recently at only small additional cost to the overall plant expansion. This modest expenditure will save much later in comparison to what the construction of these spaces would require under future separate contracts.

Overall, the R.C. Harris Treatment Plant tour, which concluded after 4 p.m., was an enjoyable and thoroughly informative event. Ron was not only informative in his presentation, but the manner in which he led the participants through the plant indicated his dedication and passion for the operations and preservation of this beautiful historical facility. Through his lively presentation, Ron invited questions and comments from the participants creating a friendly, interactive and thoroughly enjoyable atmosphere, which brought an extra dimension to the tour. Thank you Ron for a most enjoyable and informative afternoon.

Review 2

By John Bailes, Secretary, East Toronto Chapter, PEO.

After being told that we did not need our hard hats, we entered the door to the pumping station, which is the building nearest to the lake. The first thing I noticed was the light fixture in the lobby. It is the only one left from the original building. It was used as a sample to make new ones, which are now installed throughout the building where the original ones were. I wonder who the architect was on the job when they threw out all of those historic fixtures.

The present plant manager, Ron Brilliant, P.Eng., is to be congratulated for his efforts to maintain the appearance of the plant. The author has visited this plant over a period of fifty years, and it still looks just as good as it did when I saw it as a teenager. A friend of my family worked at R.C. Harris all of his life, so I saw the plant every so often back in the days when we had fewer security restrictions. I also worked on a control update in the eighties.

Next stop was the old control room. There are lots of historic pictures in this room including one of R.C. himself. When you think of the methods used at the time for the construction, the plant becomes even more amazing. Unfortunately all of the old control panels have been removed. They could have been left because this very large room is empty. The appearance of the room otherwise is perfect including the patching of the floor tiles. The old incandescent light fixtures are still in place on the ceiling in the outline of the old panels. This room looks into the pump hall, and the old indicating lights are still on the far wall looking very 1984, when the designers thought that was what things would look like in 1984. Our tour guide pointed out that the old valves and pumps are so well made that it is more economical and sensible to rebuild them than to buy new ones.

Next we went to the screen room. This is coarse screening to remove objects larger than about 5 mm. Water is then chemically treated with alum to cause flocculation and pumped to the filter beds where the water is filtered through activated carbon and sand beds. After a trip on a historic elevator, we watched one of the filters backwash. All of the control panels in this area have been restored to what is very close to the original appearance. Even the brass escutcheon plates have been retained on the selector switches. The control tower still looks impressive in its shiny brass and stainless steel glory, with Art Deco indicators and “clock”. There are lights to indicate the level in the backwash water tank. Since the control is now all by digital computers, these indicators and lights are no longer used but are functional. Future work includes new elevator controls. I hope they keep the buttons in the elevator cab!

The water is then chlorinated to kill anything left that is harmful to humans and pumped into the city distribution system. R.C, Harris supplies approximately 40% of city of Toronto water. The plan is in future to replace the chlorine gas system with a dry chemical system for safety reasons. The same is envisioned for the alum system, to eliminate the use of liquid alum.

In the original design the backwash was sent back to the lake. The next part of the plant we toured was a new system of centrifuges to extract the liquid from the backwash so it can be hauled away. There was innovative use of space and construction and design methods to create some new spaces, which will be used for updates to the plant. Again, the plant manager is to be complimented on his care of this plant to maintain its glorious appearance while keeping it just as or more functional.

This is how I saw the afternoon. Any comments are welcome and may be sent to

Review 3

By Ardian Radovicka, M.Sc., E.I.T., Project Manager-Water and Wastewater Planning, City of Hamilton

An unforgettable visit to R. C. Harris W.T.P.

I am an EIT with 20 years experience in the water project industry. During my extensive international experience I have visited many water treatment plants in Europe and North America. However, the last visit organized from PEO Scarborough Chapter in R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant will remain unforgettable for me, because it is a perfect combination of the architectural, historical, environmental and strategic values.

The original plant was constructed from 1932 to 1941, close to the intersection of Victoria Park Avenue and Queen Street in the City of Toronto. It began operating in 1941 with a capacity of 455 Ml/day. The plant was named for Rowland Caldwell Harris, and is a real memorial to his long career for the former City of Toronto public works. The former Metro Toronto Works Department decided early in 1954 that an additional filtration capacity was required. As a result, R. C. Harris has increased the capacity in 1958 to 910 Ml/day at a cost of about $7 million. The rehabilitation project included construction of a second intake, doubling the filtration and settling areas, installation of major pumping, electrical and chemical rooms.

In 1988, Toronto City Council designated the plant "as historical and architectural value" under the Ontario Heritage Act. In 1992 it was declared a national historic civil engineering site. Actually, R. C. Harris remains Toronto’s largest water treatment facility with maximal capacity of 1000 Ml/day, which represents 40% of total water production for City of Toronto and York Region. The intakes are located 15 m deep in Lake Ontario and over a couple of kilometers from Lakeshore in South/East direction of the water treatment plant. The treatment plant is composed from three major objects: (1) Pump house, (2) Filtration and settling areas, and (3) Residue management facility, which was recently constructed. The residue management facility is a small building containing process equipment and underground tanks. It allows the water treatment plant to:

- treat residues left over from the treatment process

- stop discharging residues into the Lake Ontario

- improve local beach water quality

- meet legislative requirements set out by the Ministry of the Environment.


For more than 60 years, the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant has provided safe drinking water to Toronto’s residents and York Region. It is located in an attractive east-end community called The Beach at the foot of Victoria Park Ave and Queen St. The plant is well known for its architectural features. It was constructed in the 1930s and was declared a national historic civil engineering site in 1992. It remains Toronto’s largest water treatment facility.

When 1:45 p.m. -- Assembly of all participants at the main entrance.

2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. -- Tour leaves at 2pm sharp.

Where The plant is located at the foot of Victoria Park Ave and Queen St . The main entrance is at the corner of Nursewood and Queen St.
Map Follow the plant road south towards the lake to the parking lot in the south west corner of the property, (right beside the lake)

Google Map

Registration Limited to a maximum of 20 people, on a first come first served basis.

Register early by email to Ranee Mahalingam, P.Eng.

Cost Sponsored by Scarborough Chapter

PEO Scarborough Chapter members and guests: Free