Roland Caldwell “R.C.” Harris

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Roland Caldwell “R.C.” Harris

Roland Caldwell Harris-He was the Commissioner of Public Works for Toronto from 1912 until his death in 1945. Under his leadership, Toronto saw built the Prince Edward Viaduct and the R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, which was named after him. Harris served in this position in Toronto longer than any other individual. Harris's first job was as an office boy at Toronto City Hall. He left that job to enter Jarvis Collegiate Institute. After graduating from Jarvis he obtained a position at the Toronto World newspaper as a copy boy. Harris then went on to become a reporter at the Toronto News. In 1899, he returned to city hall as a civil servant. Harris was then promoted to property commissioner in 1905. His next job was commissioner of street cleaning in 1910. After the position of Commissioner of Works and City Engineer was created by Toronto City Council in 1912, he was the first person appointed to the post. During a Toronto Street Railway strike he was appointed, in 1912, by the Municipal Board to manage the railway. Unusual for a civil servant, Harris was well-known and even admired by the media. In an undated 1922 article, a reporter wrote:

His subject was know your city and it soon became apparent that the one thing worth knowing in Toronto is the works department. The thought of the destruction of cities made Mr. Harris realize to the full just what goes into the making of a city, the exact number of barrels of tar and asphalt for the streets, the miles of pipes for the sewers, the millions of laths and nails and bricks. Mr. Harris so loves Toronto that if he had time he would gladly count every brick in Toronto, and not only count them but kiss them..

Engineering was Harris's passion although he had no formal education in that field. He used his knowledge on a number of important city projects including the filtration plant and the viaduct. The viaduct was finished in 1919 and the filtration plant was opened in 1941. Both the viaduct and the plant exemplified Harris's foresight, as the viaduct contained a lower deck capable of holding trains which weren't introduced until 48 years after its construction, and the filtration plant had embedded piping and extra rooms in anticipation of an expansion. Harris is also featured (and misnamed as "Rowland") in the Michael Ondaatje novel In the Skin of a Lion, although the portrayal of him is fictitious.


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  • Created by: Peterborough "K"
  • Added: 23 Aug 2011
  • Find A Grave Memorial 75378628
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Roland Caldwell “R.C.” Harris (May 1875–3 Sep 1945), Find A Grave Memorial no. 75378628, citing Saint Johns Norway Cemetery and Crematorium, The Beaches, Toronto Municipality, Ontario, Canada ; Maintained by Peterborough "K" (contributor 46537737) .