The Iron Ring is a ring worn by many engineers in Canada, serving as a symbol and reminder of the obligations and responsibilities of the profession. The ring is acquired through a ceremony available to students graduating from an accredited Canadian engineering program, or engineers from abroad who can demonstrate their eligibility for membership in a Canadian Professional Engineers' Association. The ceremony, known as The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, was developed with the assistance of English poet Rudyard Kipling after a request from Professor H.E.T. Haultain, and is administered by The Corporation of the Seven Wardens Inc./Société des Sept Gardiens inc. The request was made on behalf of seven past presidents of the Engineering Institute of Canada, who would become the original seven Wardens of the Corporation.
The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer
The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer (known informally as the Iron Ring Ceremony) is the ceremony in which Iron Rings are conferred to graduating engineers who choose to obligate themselves to the highest professionalism and humility of their profession. The process of the ritual is symbolic of the moral, ethical, and professional commitments made by the engineer who will wear the Iron Ring. The ceremonies are private and not open to family and friends who do not have Iron Rings. The Iron Ring is presented to each graduating engineer by a Warden of their Camp, or by a presenter that has demonstrated their devotion to the engineering profession (i.e. a relative or mentor, but not an instructor).
Design, Symbolism, and Practice
The Iron Ring presented at most ceremonies is actually made of stainless steel, although the option to receive a ring of wrought iron still exists at universities that are part of Camp One (Toronto). The rings are distributed at ceremonies held by each accredited university, operated by one of the 25 Camps of the Corporation of the Seven Wardens across Canada.
The first iron rings were given out in 1922 as part of the first Rituals administered in Canada.
The Camp One fonds at the University of Toronto Archives describes the construction of the original iron rings:
The iron rings were initially made from puddled wrought iron, sometimes called cold iron, hand-hammered by convalescing First World War veterans at the Christie Street Military Hospital, under the care of the Military Hospitals Commission which became the Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment (DSCR). Haultain had a longstanding association with the DSCR; he arranged for the rings to be manufactured and delivered to the various camps. After 1948 the responsibility for their manufacture was taken over by the Corporation of the Seven Wardens, based in Montreal. Camp One continued to manufacture its own rings, considering them to be Ancient Landmarks. While many members still wear a rough iron ring, most of the rings manufactured today are made from stainless steel.
A common myth about the Iron Ring is that the earliest rings were forged from the unusable iron and steel from the first collapse of the Quebec Bridge in 1907. During the incident, 75 of the 86 workers on the bridge were killed, and the rest injured. The collapse was attributed to poor planning and design by the overseeing engineers. This misconception may be related to the common practice of attaching a symbol of an engineering failure, such as a bolt from that bridge, to the chain that is held by the participants of the ritual. More accurately, the ring symbolizes the pride which engineers have in their profession, while acting as a constant reminder of their humility. The ring serves as a reminder to the engineer and others of their obligation to live by a high standard of professional conduct. It is not a symbol of qualification as an engineer - this is determined by the provincial and territorial licensing bodies.
The Ring itself is small and understated, designed as a constant reminder to the wearer, rather than an aesthetic piece of jewelry. The Rings were originally hammered manually with a rough outer surface. The modern machined ring design is unique, a reminder of the manual process. Twelve half-circle facets are carved into the top and bottom of the outer surface, with the two halves offset by one facet radius. Kipling explained the unpolished wrought-iron ring "is rough as the mind of the young man. It is not smoothed off at the edges, any more than the character of the young."
The Iron Ring is worn on the little finger of the working (dominant) hand. There, the facets act as a sharp reminder of one's obligation while the engineer works, because it would drag on the surface while the engineer is drafting or writing. This is particularly true of recently obligated engineers, whose rings bear sharp, unworn, facets that will smooth out over time. Protocol dictates that the rings should be returned by retired engineers or by the families of deceased engineers.
From the University of Toronto Archives:
Kipling regarded the ring as a symbol. It is rough, not smoothed, and hammered by hand as, in the words of Kipling, “the young have all their hammering coming to them.” The ring has no beginning or end. Kipling’s use of cold iron as a symbolic metal for the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer stems from his interest in iron as a metal of power and a symbol of human innovation. Likewise, the Ancient Landmarks upon which the obligation is taken are made of cold iron of “honourable tradition” without inscription. Landmarks have typically included anvils, chains and hammers. A frequently circulated myth about the iron rings is that they were made from the pieces of the collapsed Pont de Quebec Bridge that killed 76 people in 1907. The rings, however, have always been made from commercial sources.
Other Ring Programs
Based on the success of the Iron Ring in Canada, the Order of the Engineer was founded in the United States in 1970, and conducts similar ring ceremonies at a number of U.S. colleges. The recipients sign an "Obligation of the Engineer" and receive a stainless steel Engineer's Ring (which, unlike the Iron Ring, is smooth and not faceted).
At the University of Toronto's John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, there is a post-convocation ring ceremony at which each new graduate is given a silver ring to symbolize his or her entry into the kinship of architects and landscape architects. The ring is also worn on the little finger of the drafting hand, but has no other associated symbolism or obligation tied to it.
- “Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, Office of the Wardens, Camp One fonds (Finding Aid),” University of Toronto Archives and Records Management Services. Compiled by Simon Rogers, August 2009. http://archives.skule.ca/90-years-iron-ring/