Early 1800s First public wells are dug in the Town of York to replace private wells.
1843 The Toronto Gas, Light and Water Company, a private corporation, begins small-scale distribution of water through a system of wooden pipes to residents who can afford it.
1858 Only 900 of 9,500 households are hooked up to the water distribution system. Children swim in the same harbour in which sewage from the streets is dumped
1872 After 16 years of debate, city council takes over distribution of municipal drinking water.
Early 1890s Problems with the quality of the water - not so affectionately termed "drinkable sewage" by residents - force replacement of the Island filtration basin with a 2-metre wooden-stave pipe extending 1 kilometre into Lake Ontario. The pipe breaks resulting in a typhoid epidemic.
1908 A brick-lined, 2.5-metre-wide tunnel to transport filtered water to the mainland is completed.
1912 The Island Filtration Plant begins operation - but not before another typhoid epidemic ravages the city. Toronto becomes one of the first North American cities to use chlorine to treat its water. The death rate from typhoid is halved (from 44 to 22 per 100,000 people) within a year.
1953 The newly created Metro level of government takes over water treatment and distribution.
2001 Tougher security measures, including discontinuing public tours at city filtration plants, follow the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States.
Today Toronto operates four filtration plants, 21 pumping stations, 10 reservoirs and four water towers.
Odes to water
1. R.C. Harris Filtration Plant
Named after Rowland Caldwell Harris, the former commissioner of works, this "palace of purification" built in 1937 was mocked by early critics who believed its vast marble hallways and art deco styling were too ostentatious for a water plant. How wrong they were. A marvel of engineering - it supplied half the city's water needs - the original plant included extra piping for future expansion. It figures prominently today as an architectural treasure (it's been declared a heritage site), in literature (see Michael Ondaatje's In The Skin Of A Lion), on TV (The Pretender ) and in film (In The Mouth Of Madness).
2. Rosehill Reservoir
Toronto's first reservoir, built in 1873, helped bring the water distribution system into the modern age. A park was built over it to camouflage its roof in 1966, at the height of the Cold War, amid fears of nuclear conflict. But water - wading pool, water fountain, reflecting pool and waterfall - remains the enduring theme in the park.
3. Lawrence Pumping Station
The hub of west-end water operations, this two-storey limestone and black granite beauty features alternating rows of square and rectangular stones and is fronted by two owl sculptures on obelisks. Built in 1958 and declared a heritage site in 2004, the station is an inspiring illustration of the idea that design needn't be sacrificed to function - even when we're talking about something as commonplace as moving water.
4. Queensway Water Tower
They don't build water towers like they used to. This dreamy cylinder erected in the 1940s is, to our knowledge, the only brick water tower remaining in the city. Thirty metres tall and wedged into a plot between Parkside and Sunnyside, this intriguing addition to the skyline - notable for its ribbed brick pattern - was nearly wrapped in an ad to make it look like a juice can back in 2002.
5. St. Clair and Spadina Reservoir
The first reservoir constructed as part of an expansion plan to take pressure off an overloaded system, the St. Clair reservoir made Toronto's one of the largest waterworks systems on the continent. The elevated tower built into its north face was one of the city's last grand public works designs, which would become increasingly utilitarian during the Great Depression and second world war.
6. Island Water Treatment Plant
Site of our first water treatment operations, the original plant built on Toronto Island in the early 1900s was replaced by the existing building in 1977. Formerly used as a backup facility to handle water demands during hot-weather peak periods, the Island plant today operates 24/7 and supplies the extremely cold water used in the Deep Lake Water Cooling project to provide A/C to downtown towers.