Who Are We?

Cameron Soltys - 4B Mechanical
Posted on: February 6, 2018

Last Saturday, February 3, the fourth years at the University of Waterloo celebrated one of the most beloved milestones on the journey to becoming an engineer; The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer. While it is not an official part of becoming an engineer, nor is it mandatory for graduation, this is a time-honoured tradition that has been shared by many Canadian engineers and engineering student for just shy of a century.

A University of Toronto Professor, Herbert Haultain, came up with the initial inspiration of an organization meant to bind together all members of the profession of engineering. In 1922, Haultain presented his proposal to a meeting of the Engineering Institute of Canada, who responded favourably to the idea. With this support, Haultain set out to create an obligation and ceremony suitable for this purpose, approaching the English poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling for help.

Kipling was a well-known poet at the time, and Haultain went to him because several of his stories and poems had featured engineers. One such story, The Bridge-Builders, contains the well-informed line: “There is no eight-hour limit to an engineer’s work…” Kipling proceeded to create the ceremony and obligation that he called “The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer.” A crucial part of the ceremony is the receipt of a ring made of iron, intended to be worn by the recipient until their retirement or death.

The iron ring is a curious ornament, specifically engineered to be intrusive. Kipling’s original intention was for it to be of rough, hammered construction and to be hoop shaped so as to have no start or end. Today most rings are made of stainless steel instead of iron; the camp serving Torontonian Universities alone offers both the iron and stainless steel options. The transition has come because iron rings can react with the body’s chemicals, loosening the fit. The modern ring contains 8 semicircular facets on each outside edge, creating sharp angles. These angles are designed to scratch across the page as one writes or draws, reminding the wearer of its presence, and through it, an engineer’s obligations to society and their profession. It is otherwise unadorned, since the ring is not so much a piece of jewelry as it is a reminder.

According to frequently-stated but unfortunately false legends, the rings are made from the metal of the collapsed first Quebec Bridge. This bridge was chosen, the legend says, because its failure in 1907 was caused by the poor planning and design on the part of its engineers. The symbolism of the ring as a token of the duty that engineers have to protect society comes from the memory of 75 construction workers who died as the bridge fell.

Congratulations fourth years: your 1616 day wait is complete. Keep the message of the ring—professional obligation and professional camaraderie—clear in your minds as you venture off into the fantastic new opportunities that await.

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