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The R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant was open for the first time in a decade for Toronto’s Doors Open event. This is taken in the pump house from the observation deck.

The rain hasn’t let up in Toronto. Last week we checked out what the outfall of Park Drive looked like during rain and snow melt. It wasn’t quite the raging torrent I had imagined, but a little intimidating, nonetheless. In fact, this drain, built to service the Spadina Expressway is largely underused for its size because¬† it was built in anticipation¬† of a highway that was never built.

Here’s an old photo taken by official city photographer, F.W. Micklethwaite, in 1893. Depicted is a six-foot steel intake pipe joint that was used to supply Toronto with drinking water from Lake Ontario. I have no idea who that sharply dressed fellow is, but he bares a resemblance to legendary British civil engineer, Joseph Bazalgette (who died in 1891).

Lacking any new relevant content, here’s a collection of junctions. Above is a dual arch junction from two storm/overflow sewers, East Toronto Combined sewers.

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One of the two steep slides through the Earls along a stretch of unique piping. Tall concrete arch with curved brick floors and sturdy steel railings up the slides.

In related news, BlogTO has posted a feature that offers short conversations with two gentlemen, who have proven to be an informative and aesthetic resource for anyone who has ever been curious about the world beneath their feet.

One of the smaller slides in the Court of the Earls. Just about every structure like this came complete with a handrail along the side. Adjacent sewers branching into this one unfortunately did not.

Seen here is an overflow conduit that functions as a last resort for a large collector sewer in the suburbs of Hamilton, Ontario. Originally this section provided primary relief in the case of a swelling sewer. Nowadays it’s only used when the adjacent storage tanks are overwhelmed. Judging by the similar design to Stairway to Paradise in the opposite end of town, this staircase pipe was likely built in the 40’s or 50’s.

If you walk to the top of the stairs you’ll be stopped by a large flood gate that can only be opened mechanically somewhere on the surface in a control building. It’s believed that there are a series of gates that eventually travel to the 15-foot weir to the sewer. There are at least two that we know of, as we saw the other side of one through the main overflow staircase that feeds into the storage tanks, seen in the previous post. We’re pretty sure those two staircases are the same pipe, just divided by the gates.

When the gates are up, overflow sewage fills up the massive cylindrical storage tanks that are the size of baseball diamonds. The tanks have openings at the top that are like a balcony to look down from. If the enormous tanks were ever to overflow, a newer corrugated pipe has been installed that converges with the staircase, which drains into the ravine. Luckily that may only happen once in a decade due to the sheer capacity.

As this creature came into view through the mist of Hamilton’s vast underground network, we knew we had stumbled upon something bigger than our imaginations could fathom. We’re still trying to understand its purpose and its relation to the gargantuan chamber it resides in, which is the size of a baseball field. We quietly shuffled beneath the hairy legs of the beast as not to disturb its eternal and internal slumber.

This isn’t a particularly good photo, but it shows, perhaps, the greatest depths I’ve waded through in a Toronto storm drain (that doesn’t include blindly walking into a plunge pool). There’s an interesting reason why this drain is so deep.

About one hundred metres from the outfall you’re met with this strange piece of construction. The flow in this diagram moves from left to right. Entry is through the outfall, so you’d be coming from the right side. Here’s a photo:

This trough collects upstream water and sends it behind the wall and back out through a small pipe about 30 feet downstream. This process dams the upstream portion not only making the water deeper, but more importantly making the flow slower. Downstream there is some scattered rebar and concrete debris, which suggests some massive storm tore chunks off the walls years ago.

Storm drains exist not only to wash rain water off of impermeable surfaces like asphalt and sidewalks, but also to mimic the natural water cycle and send its contents to the nearest stream or river. However, concrete, the most typical material of storm drain construction, does not act like grass, soil or even rocks. Since the surface is smooth and flat, water is able to travel through much quicker than it would over a natural surface. When it rains, the water is able to travel much faster to the nearest ravine underground than it would by following natural land grade above ground. Natural surfaces also absorb a lot of rain to replenish roots and soil.

This trough/weir construction is just one of many ways to control the speed and intensity of the flow of a drain to reduce damage and erosion. In the case of a storm the trough would probably overflow. However since about one hundred metres or so upstream of this the water is so deep, water wouldn’t be traveling nearly as fast.

Above isn’t necessarily drain related, but is definitely water and conduit related. The R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant located on the shore’s of Toronto’s east end is a wonderous piece of infrastructure that has the power to make a jaded Torontonian romanticize about their city. Afterall, it played an important role in Michael Ondaatje’s novel In the Skin of a Lion. Named after the former commissioner of public works, Rowland Caldwell Harris, this photo of the front doors and restoration scaffolding doesn’t do justice to the city’s most grandiose piece of art deco.

I highly recommend taking a visit here one day if you havn’t already, especially since the grounds are open to the public.