Calls to modernize Canadian Iron Ring ceremony for new engineers continue

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Engineers Canada, as well as some provincial and territorial engineering regulators, are calling for changes to the private iron ring ceremony for Canadian engineering graduates known as the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, which some view as outdated.

In a 10-page letter sent to the Corporation of the Seven Wardens, the signatories suggest they want a retooling of the ring ceremony — unique to more than 500,000 Canadian engineering graduates for nearly 100 years — to “reflect contemporary engineering responsibilities and values.”

A similar call for change to the Wardens was made in 2020.

The more recent driving force for change came during a roundtable discussion at the 2022 Canadian Engineering Education Association Conference, with particular emphasis directed at the ceremony’s text authored by Rudyard Kipling.

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“[…] The ceremony itself is steeped in outdated and harmful worldviews, including colonialism, racism, and sexism,” states the letter to the Wardens.

The signatories’ letter also includes a series of recommendations about how to modernize the ceremony.

The letter adds that the ceremony “does not grant true agency to engineers,” and thus fails to “embody a comprehensive understanding of engineering ethics.” Additionally, the letter notes the ceremony’s “lack of clarity and transparency” in both the ceremony’s text and in the structures and processes of the Corporation itself.

“While it is clear that the ring itself confers no legal authority, we believe that it is important for the ceremony to present an accurate picture of how engineering responsibility has changed,” the letter states.

The signatories also note that the ceremony includes readings and symbolism that are inherently Christian and patriarchal, which have made some participants uncomfortable.

Additionally, complaints have been made over the ceremony’s secrecy, such as participants being advised not to discuss the ceremony afterwards, to friends and families of participants not being allowed to attend unless they are “obligated engineers.”

The ceremonies take place across Canada at 25 separate groups, called Camps. The ceremony features the presenting of an iron ring, though often stainless steel, as a symbol of professional duty and obligation. It is to be worn on the little finger.

In response to complaints about the ceremony, the Corporation of the Seven Wardens announced that it had formed a Ritual Review Committee in early 2022. In a statement, the Wardens noted that Kipling’s ceremony text has previously undergone revisions to address “gender neutrality and the removal of religious words and phrases.”

The Wardens’ statement continues: “Some stakeholders have expressed urgency in replacing the Ritual immediately. The Corporation wishes to honour the principles of the 100-year-old tradition and to respect all stakeholders’ needs. To do so will require thoughtful input and careful consideration. The current Ritual served its purpose for nearly 100 years – the Corporation wishes that the outcome of the Committee’s work be relevant and enduring for the next 100 years.”

The list of signatories adds 20 pages onto the letter and includes organizations such as Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Newfoundland & Labrador; Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta; Association of Professional Engineers of Yukon; Association of Professional Engineers of the Province of Prince Edward Island; and the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Why is it that the current generation is bent on the destruction of traditions that themselves helped to shape the very standards of their chosen profession? While not an engineer myself, I am familiar with the event that lead to the iron ring ceremony. In my humble opinion, regarding this and many other revisionist movements, it is more important to consider the function, and not the form.

  2. The Iron Ring was originally crafted from the metal recovered from the collapse of the Québec Bridge and serves as an unequivocal reminder of our responsibility as Engineers. I see no value in trying, once again, to rewrite history. Leave sleeping dogs lie and leave it alone, PLEASE!

  3. So the ‘woke’ crowd is having a go at the iron ring ceremony.
    When I received my iron ring in 1975 I felt pride, honour and responsibility to a calling that was expected of me as I recited those words written over a hundred years ago. I now felt grounded in an association steeped in history and tradition – like taking a hippocratic oath for engineers.
    If you strip away history and tradition – and if you believe in having values, you will have nothing to hang your hat on.

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