Engineering is a profession that is based on tradition. When you become an engineer, you are becoming a part of a group of professionals who are expected to uphold a certain level of excellence. The iron ring is an embedded part of the profession and engineers wear it today as a reminder of their professional obligation and the potential repercussions when a job is not completed up to professional standards.
Here is a brief overview of the story behind the iron ring:
the origins of the iron ring
The iron ring is a tradition created by Canadian engineers. Its roots date back to 1922. It began when a group of Montreal engineers got together to create a code of ethics for the profession. To date, over 500,000 engineering graduates have attended a ritual ceremony.
The ring has long been rumored to have been created in response to the collapse of the Quebec Bridge that cross the Saint Lawrence River. It collapsed twice and claimed 88 lives. The ring symbolizes the responsibilities that engineers have. The ring itself is made of stainless steel or iron.
the ritual of the calling of an engineer
In Canada, once you receive your engineering degree from an accredited university, you are then invited to a private ring ceremony which is called the ritual of the calling of an engineer. During the ceremony, all new engineers are given an iron ring as a symbol of becoming part of the profession.
The tradition dates back to 1925. The first ceremony was held at the University Club of Montreal. The idea was derived from University of Toronto professor, H.E.T. Haultain. He convinced the Engineering Institute of Canada there was a need for a ceremony for established engineers to welcome new graduates into the profession.
The ceremony is still done today by The Corporation of the Seven Wardens Inc. (Société des Sept Gardiens inc.) through regional branches, or camps. These are universities. In total, there are 27 camps across the country. There are 6 in Montreal and 4 in Toronto. There are also 3 in Quebec City and 3 in Vancouver. To commemorate its 75th anniversary, a stamp was issued in 2000 and circulated in Canada.
This tradition has also been adopted in the United States by the Order of the Engineer. They started using the tradition in 1970. Although, the US ring has a different design.
So, the next time you see an engineer and notice the iron ring on their pinky finger, you will know why they are wearing it.
a call to modernize - Seven Wardens to review the ritual of calling of an engineer
Canada has changed a lot since the ritual of the calling of an engineer was first introduced. The country, and the engineering profession, have become much more diverse and inclusive. There have been calls for greater transparency regarding the ceremony and its participants.
There are calls to “include engineers who have been excluded from and negatively impacted by the existing ceremony (Indigenous people, women, people of colour, newcomers to Canada, gender diverse folks, and other minority groups) in the re-envisioning process,” says a group of engineers and engineering educators to the Seven Wardens, and Wardens from across Canada.
Engineers Canada has offered its support to a group of engineers and engineering students, faculty, university administrators, alumni, and iron ring wardens who are calling for the Iron Ring Ceremony to be ‘retooled’ in ways that reflect contemporary engineering responsibilities and values.
At the June 2022 Canadian Engineering Education Association Conference, a roundtable discussion occurred, and those in attendance agreed change was needed. There is a call for the Corporation of the Seven Wardens to implement:
- A re-envisioned Iron Ring ceremony
- A commitment to accountability and transparency
- Reduce potential harm during the retooling process.
People within the industry continue to advocate for changes to the Iron Ring Ceremony and to broader engineering culture, and they have continued to receive messages of support. The group supporting change believes now is the time to modernize.
“Given that 2022 marks the centennial of the creation of the Ritual, and 2025 the centennial of the first ceremony, we believe that now is an opportune time to revise the ceremony so that it will continue to hold meaning for generations of engineers to come.”
This is one of the many steps being taken to make the engineering profession a more inclusive, diverse, and attractive career for ALL Canadians.