The Iron Ring and the Secret Ceremony

Mike Grossman
Professional Engineer
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Minute Read
January 31, 2022
The Iron Ring and the Secret Ceremony

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Twice a year, graduating engineers at universities across Canada take part in the Ritual Calling of the Engineer Ceremony, or the Iron Ring Ceremony. This ceremony is performed by the Corporation of the Seven Wardens Inc./Société des Sept Gardiens inc.

The candidate takes an obligation to perform his or her duties as an engineer in ways that protect public safety and to uphold the honor of the profession. During the ceremony, the engineer is presented with an iron ring that he or she wears on the little finger of the working hand. This ring serves as a constant reminder of the obligation.

The historic meaning

The Ceremony began in 1922 in an effort to prevent engineering failures such as the Quebec Bridge collapse of 1907. This disaster and the death of 75 construction workers could have been prevented.

After construction had begun, substantial calculation errors were discovered and ignored because they were deemed “not serious”. Construction still continued after girders were found to be misaligned, and later bent. On August 29, 1907, a portion of the bridge collapse, taking 75 workers with it.

At a meeting of engineers in Montreal, Professor H. E. T. Haultain of the University of Toronto, spoke of the need for unity among the engineers of Canada and a way to bind them to the responsibilities and honour of the profession.

He and seven former presidents of the Engineering Institute of Canada, the original Seven Wardens of the Corporation, worked together and recruited Rudyard Kipling to create The Ritual of the Calling of the Engineer. The first ceremony was held on April 25, 1925, obliging six engineers.

Candidates voluntarily take part in the Iron Ring Ceremony at universities all around Canada during their final semester of college.  Although other engineers that have not done so previously can choose to take the obligation as well. Only those candidates taking the obligation and engineers who have already done so are welcome at the ceremony.

The ceremony is performed by one of the 25 camps of the Corporation of the Seven Wardens and is considered to be a private affair, with the candidates told that they are not to discuss it with anyone.

Taking part in the ceremony does not ensure that the candidate is a qualified engineer, it is only a promise from him or her to uphold the values that are expected in the profession.

The iron ring

The ring is designed with many sharp facets as a symbol to the engineer of his or her obligation and humility. It is worn on the little finger of the dominant hand as traditionally, it would rub on the engineering drawings as a reminder.

Originally, the rings were made of iron, with the false belief that they were made from the iron from the collapsed Québec Bridge.

Increasingly, the rings are made from stainless steel. It is customary that the ring should only be worn by the practicing engineer and should be returned when he or she retires or passes away. The “experienced” iron ring can then be passed on to a newly-graduated engineer to carry on the tradition.

The obligation

The obligation is a personal vow of the engineer to live up to the ethical responsibilities of an engineer. This includes doing everything possible to protect public safety, practice legally and ethically, and uphold the honour of the engineering profession.

It is also a way for the younger engineers to honour those that have come before them and for the experienced engineers to guide the newly-obligated engineers. Engineering is a noble profession that requires accountability and humility. Participating in the Iron Ring Ceremony and wearing the Iron Ring is a way for the new engineer to show his or her intention of honouring the profession.

It is important to realize that the iron ring is worn as a reminder of an oath and not a reminder of a disaster.

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