R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant – Toronto, Ontario - Atlas Obscura

R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant

This "Palace of Purification" has made many film appearances as a dark and sinister headquarters. 


This palatial art-deco building in Toronto, Canada, looks like a museum but is a water treatment plant. Surprisingly, the inside of the building is similarly elegant, with cavernous halls and marble passages, all full of filtration equipment. This opulence has earned the building the nickname “Palace of Purification.” The grounds are a popular place to play fetch with your dog, near the tiny ‘dog-friendly’ end of the Beach area. (Apparently, open sewer dumping, the putrid Don River & industrial/shipping dumping in Lake Ontario pale in comparison to dog paws for pollution.)

The grounds of the plant, named for Rowland Caldwell Harris the Commissioner of Works for the City of Toronto, was built between 1932 and 1941 and is today open to visitors. Despite its age, the plant still purifies 45% of the water supply of Toronto and the surrounding county.

Though the building provides a great and very necessary service to its community, you may recognize it via its usually darker representation in the movies: the exterior of the plant was an insane asylum in the 1995 horror film “In the Mouth of Madness,” and “Robocop” the series, a prison in “Half Baked,” and some variety of evil headquarters in “Undercover Brother,” and TV series “The Pretender,” and “Mutant X.” It was even an evil brewery in the cult classic “Strange Brew.”

One of its main 21st-century film roles was in Guillermo del Toro’s 2021 adaptation of “Nightmare Alley”. The director seems to be quite fond of the building as it was also a location in “Mimic”, his 1997 English-language debut.

The building of the Harris Plant was an integral part of the book, In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje. “Ondaatje’s later and more famous novel The English Patient is, in part, a sequel to In the Skin of a Lion, continuing the characters of Hana and Caravaggio, as well as revealing the fate of this novel’s main character, Patrick Lewis.” If you’re going to visit, bring the flyer!

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