R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant

I'm not in Toronto anymore.

Struck by some strange urge, I tied on my shoes, threw the necessities in my backpack (camera, juggling balls, water, current (surprisingly unsettling, more later) novel) and started walking toward the Scarborough Bluffs. In an uncharacteristically haphazard move, I didn’t so much as look them up on wikipedia (until just now). I figured, they’re cliffs, they’re east of The Beaches along the lake, and again, they’re big fuckoff cliffs, how hard can they be to find?

As I had some much more proximate stops along the way,

1) Get coffee
2) Eat a burrito
3) Invesitgate tripod head options

I was at least half sure that I would just do those things, then some small thing would take the whim out of my sails; a song I couldn’t stand would pop up on shuffle, or one too many slow-moving pedestrian would weave into my path and then suddenly stop walking, or I’d simply lose interest, or any number of potentially fatal threats could befall my expedition. Plans undertaken for no real reason are notoriously fragile.  But, no. After breaching the north-south barrier of Yonge St., there was no turning back until I saw some cliffs.

Barring a startling, accidental detour through the Distillery District (has it always been this big?) my walk there was uneventful, long, and not nearly shady enough, thanks to the industrial barrens of the port abutting Eastern Ave. Likewise, the beaches were thoroughly beach-like and unexciting, at least until a strange concrete wall jutted out from the mass of greenery and assuredly expensive houses on the beaches’ landward side, sternly stopping the sand’s sprawl. There was a railing atop the wall, and I could make out some people sitting beyond it, so there had to be a way to proceed. Imagine my surprise when, after navigating a short uphill climb, I came across a sprawling green lawn with similarly sprawling series of buildings scattered around it.

It was powerfully surreal. After walking around in an excited daze for an amount of time, peeking in windows and reflexively snapping pictures, a few pieces of information aligned themselves in my head. I realized this must be the water treatment plant from In the Skin of a Lion. I had not really thought twice about it after finishing the book. There was something too fantastic about Ondaatje’s description of it, that, despite being quite familiar with the Bloor St. Viaduct (the other structure which plays a central role in the novel), I automatically assumed that this place had been torn down and replaced with some functionally ugly, fenced-off plant and hidden away behind berms of earth and low-rent housing. But no, it definitely exists. (that’s right, proper existence requires a wikipedia entry)

After taking this all in, I remembered my original goal, the bluffs. The day was wearing on and I was getting tired, so I made my way to the easternmost part of the plant’s grounds and looked along the shoreline. I could see the cliffs, but they were upsettingly distant. I settled for the exciting discovery of the water treatment plant (lost to mankind all these years) and vowed transit-aided revenge on the bluffs another day.

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