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July 25th, 2014
Rowland Caldwell Harris: True Beacher and City Builder

Q5. Name two architectural masterpieces associated with R.C. Harris? (P18)



Rowland Caldwell Harris: True Beacher and City Builder

By Beth Parker



Commissioner R.C. Harris, 1934.
City of Toronto Archives

Apart from its fascinating history, Toronto's Balmy Beach community has been home to many famous residents, men and women who have contributed significantly to the City and our country. R.C. Harris, Commissioner of City Works from 1912 to 1945, lived on Neville Park Road. His charming, architecturally significant house is a fitting symbol for his accomplishments and priorities as one of our city's great visionaries and builders.

Rowland Caldwell Harris began working at Toronto's City Hall as a lowly office boy in the early 1900's. At 30, the clever and ambitious young man became the youngest ever to be appointed a department head, where he moved into the position of "City Engineer". Harris was clearly in the right place at the right time. Toronto was expanding its infrastructure, including setting up water works in the Beaches Community, i.e. Balmy Beach in 1905. Toronto created a newly reorganized Works Department, and Harris, in spite of lacking an engineering degree, was a natural choice to become its Commissioner.

Over the 33 years in which he served, Harris clearly demonstrated that he did not need an engineer's degree to understand how things work. According to sources at the time, Harris "was an avid reader of technical journals and had already proven himself an able administrator" (Architecture of Public Works 4-10). He also is recognized one of the key figures in the creation of Toronto's permanent infrastructure. As Commissioner, Harris saw the need and pushed for the development of sewers and roads, with the keen understanding that in order to thrive and grow, a great city had to solve the issues of fresh water and sewage.

Harris saw Toronto modernized through many projects. His crowning achievements, however, were the Prince Edward Viaduct (more commonly referred to as the Bloor Street Viaduct) and the Water Filtration Plant at the foot of Victoria Park. The viaduct was finished in 1919 and the filtration plant was completed in 1941. Both are noted for their engineering foresight and the elegance of their design. The viaduct contained a lower deck capable of holding trains, which weren't introduced until 48 years after its construction, and the filtration plant had embedded piping and extra rooms in anticipation of expansion.

Harris' influence on architecture is perhaps his most visible achievement. Aside from the grandeur of the viaduct and the water treatment plant (now bearing his name), even the copper roofs on our city buildings (now green!) were his choice of material.

Harris also was a great "Beacher". He was a member of many clubs and associations in the city but his favourite was Balmy Beach. He also was a member of St. Aidan's Anglican Church at the corner of Willow and Queen – a church celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Although not an elected official, Harris also was known for his political influence. He joined two Orange Lodges at the time, demonstrating that he certainly knew how a Protestant Town like Toronto operated. Harris is also featured in the Michael Ondaatje novel In the Skin of a Lion, but his portrayal is fictitious.

Harris died in 1945 while still serving as Commissioner. He is buried in the Cemetery at St. John the Baptist Norway Church on Woodbine Avenue.


Thanks to information by Gene Domagala


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