One of my friends recently asked me, “Is it safe to drink the tap water in Toronto?” I was a bit taken aback as I thought Toronto’s water was famous for its high quality and taste. It has even won awards. But this question made me realize that perhaps a lot of Torontonians aren’t aware of this fact, let alone where our drinking water comes from.
One of the things we try to encourage here at Waterkeeper is to learn about your watershed. Which is why one of the qualities of being a water leader is to educate yourself. This includes knowing where your drinking water comes from. Encouraging water literacy is important because the people who make the smartest choices for their communities are often the ones who understand their personal connection to water and therefore the watershed they live in.
In Toronto, our drinking water comes from Lake Ontario. Whether you’re aware of this or not, if you live in Toronto and drink from the tap, you drink Lake Ontario. In fact, if you live in Toronto, your body is 60% Lake Ontario! It’s mind blowing that there is such a stigma surrounding Lake Ontario and it being “dirty.” The reality is we rely on Lake Ontario for so many essential life functions.
But before the water from Lake Ontario reaches your taps, it goes through a testing and filtration process that makes it safe to drink. The city tests drinking water samples every 4 hours (more than required by the Ministry of the Environment’s Ontario Drinking Water Standards).
Toronto’s drinking water comes from pipes up to 5-kilometres from shore. These intake pipes connect to one of four of Toronto’s water treatment plants. The largest and most striking being the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Facility. R.C. Harris provides 47% of Toronto and York Region’s water. In one day alone, it provides 950 million litres of water!
For more than 70 years, the R.C. Harris plant has provided Toronto residents with water. It was built in the 1930s to accommodate public tours and showcase how the city gets its water. The plant is known for its architectural details and Art Deco design. It has even garnered two heritage designations. R.C. Harris is designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Site by the Ontario Heritage Act and is recognized as a Canadian Water Landmark by the American Water Works Association.
Public tours of the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant are now few and far between. However, this weekend (May 28th - 29th) the aptly nicknamed Palace of Purification is open to the public from 10:00am to 4:00pm during Doors Open Toronto. And I can’t think of a better way to learn about Toronto’s drinking water supply than by touring a water treatment plant.
But if you aren’t an Art Deco water nerd like me, Doors Open Toronto is your opportunity to obtain rare access to 130 other architecturally, historically, culturally and socially significant buildings across Toronto.
Inspired by similar events in Europe, Toronto was the first city in North America to join the Doors Open movement. Since its launch in 2000, more than 700 buildings in the city have participated – attracting over 2 million visitors. By attending, you will not only obtain information regarding Toronto’s architectural and design heritage but also the rare opportunity to see parts of the city that are regularly restricted or go unseen. And the best part is – it’s free.
To help you out, I curated a list of five places in addition to R.C. Harris, that are at the top of my “to visit” list this weekend.
The Cornell-Campbell House is a historic farmhouse that was built in 1799. Today, it is used by Parks Canada’s Rouge National Urban Park staff. Once complete, the Rouge National Urban Park will be the largest urban park in North America. During Doors Open, Parks Canada staff and volunteers will be on-site to answer questions about the historical significance of the farmhouse and provide information about the natural, and cultural history of Canada's first national urban park.
Gangways Open Toronto Waterfront offers you the opportunity to explore everything from tall ships to luxury liners, and learn about life on the water. There is also a photo exhibit of Toronto’s historic waterfront featuring over 100 archival images.
If you want to take your drinking water knowledge one step further, visit the high level pumping station near Casa Loma. Once water is taken from Lake Ontario and treated, it is necessary to pump it to reach the residents and businesses of Toronto. There are 22 major pumping facilities in Toronto, High Level being the oldest. Located in a residential enclave, you would never guess this historical building houses a steam engine dating back to 1909 that is still in operation today.
The Toronto Botanical Garden is home to 4 acres of award-winning gardens (17, in fact!) as well as an environmentally sustainable, LEED certified building. The George and Kathy Dembroski Centre for Horticulture features a green roof, as well as a rainwater management system.
The Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design is working to find ways to improve the environmental performance of green roofs. Visiting this award-winning Green Roof Innovation Testing Laboratory is a must-see. The lab includes 33 test beds, 270 sensors, a weather station, solar photovoltaic technology, and green wall testing sites. Capacity for the green lab tours are limited - so get there early!
These are just a few places I’m interested in. Take a look at all 130 of the places that are opening their doors here. Open Doors Toronto is a great opportunity to get to know your community. So join me, and find out what’s behind our doors this weekend.
Note: If you are unsure if your community’s tap water is safe to drink - check the free Drink Guide app.