HTO captivates Canadian Architect

HTO: Toronto's Water from Lake Iroquois to Lost Rivers to Low-flow Toilets, edited by Wayne Reeves and Christina Palassio
By Ian Chodikoff
Canadian Architect
February 1 2009

Despite the manipulation of eco-systems to accommodate our growing cities, the rivers that exist beneath the morass of urbanity can never entirely disappear. This recent publication contains 34 essays to delight the reader, with stories about Toronto's natural systems and man-made infrastructure pertaining to the provision, purification and protection of its water. Reading about watersheds has never been so engaging! This book, divided into four sections (foundations, transformation, explorations and directions), loosely traces a narrative from the prehistoric era to the founding of the Town of York in 1793, and from the destructive powers of Hurricane Hazel in 1954 to current waterfront and riparian management policies.

The story of Toronto's water begins with Ed Freeman's article on the city's geological origins and continues with Nick Eyles' article on the city's various ravines, lagoons, cliffs and spits, describing the history of the city from the Laurentide Ice Sheet 25,000 years ago to the eventual formation of our Great Lakes. Other transformations have been caused by civilization. As outlined in Chris Hardwicke and Wayne Reeves' essay, the alterations to Toronto's Lake Ontario shoreline, especially over the past 200 years, repeatedly involved lake-filling and the concretization of the waterfront—a situation that is only now beginning to be addressed with any serious intent.

As the city grew, deforestation, pollution and sprawl ensued, while issues of public health, safe drinking water and adequate sewage treatment remained significant challenges. Mahesh Patel's article describes how the city has improved the health of its citizenry over decades, after periods of typhoid and cholera. During the glory years of improving health —the late 1920s and '30s—Toronto built modern water-purification plants, notably the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant which opened in 1938. It was a veritable 'palace of purification' that continues to inspire Torontonians with its ambitious architecture. Other essays describe some of the painful side effects of urbanization, like Gary Miedema's article on the early river mills of Toronto. These mills were responsible for the development of communities like Malvern, Hogg's Hollow and York Mills but they also contributed to deforestation and flash floods. And when Toronto became a large coal-burning city in the 1850s, its ravines and valleys would make for convenient disposal sites that lay beneath many apartment buildings, houses and schools today.

This book is a poignant reminder to any city-dweller of the cultural, historical and environmental importance of fresh water, public health, lakes, rivers and streams to any urban system.

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