The St. Clair Reservoir: Preserving Toronto’s Historical Infrastructure

If you’ve ever gone for a stroll in Sir Winston Churchill Park, you will have seen some valuable elements of the City’s green infrastructure. You may have taken advantage of the tennis courts, dog park, walking paths or playground equipment. But what you wouldn’t have seen is the vast containment of drinking water that lies just a metre beneath the surface: this is the St. Clair Water Reservoir.

We live our lives above crucial urban infrastructure all the time, seldom giving it a thought – if we even know it exists. We might be aware of subway tunnels or sewer systems underfoot, but it’s rare that we ever catch a glimpse of the mole world below. This summer, I was able to tour the inside of the St. Clair Reservoir while it is drained for refurbishment work.

The Reservoir was completed in 1931 on lands that were donated as part of the Eaton estate. Famed city works commissioner R.C. Harris initiated the work as part of his plan to modernize Toronto’s water infrastructure. The reservoir is made up of two basins, east and west, which hold a total of 254 mega (million) litres. This is enough water to last the whole city 3 weeks of average use! Normally, some of the reservoir water is used every day by the surrounding community.

At present, the park is closed off and has been literally scraped off while the reservoir roof/ceiling receives some TLC. These repair works are the first ever needed in the reservoir’s 85-year lifetime, a testament to how well-built it is. The reservoir, and historic valve house seen from Spadina Road at the south end of the park, are both being restored. The park will re-open upon the project’s completion, projected for fall 2019.