Run To… R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant


An otherworldly Toronto running route destination.

Looming high above Lake Ontario at the easternmost end of Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood, the R.C. Harris Water Treatment plant seems like a world onto its own, that straddles beaches, teeming with sunbathers, tourists and dog walkers come summer.

View from the east of the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant Grounds.

Named a national historic civil engineering site in 1992 and recognized as one of Canada’s best examples of Art Deco architecture, walking the vast “palace of purification” grounds feels more as if you’ve stumbled upon some mysterious European cathedral, rather than something as mundane as a municipal utility. The facility’s interior is equally as impressive (unfortunately now closed for tours during the coronavirus outbreak) as well, with high, arching marble entrances and a huge open floor, filled with natural light, exposing pools of water, hefty circular filtration machinery and chlorination tanks.

Interior: R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant

Formerly the site of an amusement park from 1878 to 1906 the plant’s construction began during the depression in the early ’30s and completed in 1941. The facility still pumps out over 100,000 million litres of clean drinking water annually; about a third of Toronto’s overall supply. Futher, as a result the treatment plant’s contoured, rising landscape, the facility has served as the set for dozens of films and movies over the years, including as a fill-in for the insane asylum in 1994 the horror film In the Mouth of Madness, crime-drama Regression, Strange Brew (eh) and TV’s RoboCop: The Series.

Surrounding features

There’s also a small beach below the plant, if you’re looking to get away from the crowds at Woodbine Beach further east to sunbathe or a go for a dip in the lake after a muggy summer run; a word of warning, Lake Ontario’s perpetually freezing here so don’t expect to do laps. Then there’s the ‘secret beach’ about a half-kilometre to the west of the plant, accessed by a wooded trail that runs south of queen street: A great destination to walk the dog on the sandy beach or just to get away from it all (and apparently a hideaway for under-age drinkers as local authorities will attest to. Don’t even think about it anymore, kids).

Running at R.C. Harris

Cloud reflects on window pane at R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant
Window Pane: R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant. Photo by Dave Carpenter

Given the plant’s steep rise from Lake Ontario, up to Queen Street to the north, R.C. Harris’s winding service road provides the perfect venue for hill training. That said, it’s a challenging workout regardless of your fitness level, so don’t overdo it, especially if you’re running a long out and back (e.g. to and from Toronto’s west end). Also, if you really want to challenge yourself, exit the complex to the north, head east a few blocks and up either Blantyre avenue, Courcelette road or Fallingbrook road on your left, up to Kingston Rd. Trust me, you’ll feel it.

Run with a club

If you’re looking for a crew to run with, check out the welcoming Beaches Runners Club for open group run schedules and contact information. The Beaches Running Room hosts open runs on weekends, too, except in the event of a global pandemic outbreak, occurring as I write this post, so rain check on the group runs for now. That doesn’t mean you can’t run outdoors right now, though, as along as you go about it safely.

Toronto Running Routes to R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant (or biking):

A few running route options to R.C. Harris, depending where you live, each right around 10k:

From Downtown Toronto:
running route to R.C. Harris treatment plant
Toronto Running Routes: CN Tower to R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant : 10K. Click image for detailed view.
From Midtown:
Toronto Running Routes: Central Reference Library to R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant : 10K. Click image for detailed view.
From South Scarborough:
Toronto Running Routes: Scarborough Village Starbucks to R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant: 10K. Click image for detailed view.

More About R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant:

  • Address: 2701 Queen Street East, Scarborough, ON M1N 1A2, Canada, just west of Balmy Beach.
  • Parking available on southwest side of facility & nursewood rd. to the east
  • local running club: Beaches Runners Club
  • Tours of R.C. Harris: Suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak until further notice.

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