Sword in the Stone

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Sword in the Stone on the day of unveiling

The Sword in the Stone is a 10' tall monument located in the Galbraith Garden constructed from aluminum with a large concrete base. It was constructed by members of the Brute Force Committee and partially funded by the Engineering Society. The Sword is a symbol that represents Skule™ spirit, and has figured as a prominent part of the BFC logo since the early 1990s.

The Sword in the Stone has gone through multiple iterations. It was first placed in the front of the Sandford Fleming Building as a prank in the early 1990s, but was removed by the University of Toronto before it was widely noticed. It was replaced again in the late 1990s, and stood at the front of the building until it was again removed in 2003 for renovations to the exterior.

A second, larger, sword was commissioned following the dismantling of the first Sword in the Stone, and was proposed to replace the original sword at the front of SF. However, negotiations with the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering failed to produce a meaningful resolution. Finally, in 2008, the new Sword was erected in the Galbraith Garden with Faculty approval.


The First Sword in the Stone

Original Sword in storage

In the early 1990s, the Brute Force Committee was driven deep underground by a series of controversial pranks and vandalism, which polarized public opinion of the BFC. In response, the BFC circulated a large number of stickers with their blue and gold crest and sword around the University of Toronto campus. During those times, it was a dangerous exercise to be found with one of these stickers, as the Faculty had banned the BFC from any affiliation with the University and its students.

In those years, it was also customary for graduating classes to leave permanent or semi-permanent monuments to their class. These pranks were tolerated so long as they were safe, non-offensive, and aesthetically neutral.

The few remaining members of the now-underground BFC, however, decided to take the pranking to the next step. They had decided to erect a large "Sword in the Stone" to ensure that the memory of their existence would not fade.

A large reinforced concrete block, measuring about 8'x8'x3', made of experimental extra-hard concrete, was constructed with the help of the Civil Engineering laboratories. The sword and the stone were cast together, and left to cure for several months in a secret location in an effort to increase its strength.

Finally, one night, it was set into the lawn in front of Sandford Fleming Building (facing Convocation Hall) via a hired crane. Once the Sword was in place, the loops of rebar used for hoisting were cut off to make the stone flush and much harder to remove.

The Sword in the Stone was discovered by the Faculty the next morning, and by 10am, there was a crew of three workers attacking it with jackhammers. By 4pm, it was fully removed. Some Civil Engineering students at the time claimed that it was the "longest they have ever seen a piece of concrete stand up to such an assault with jackhammers".

Although the perpetrators of the prank were disheartened, they managed to find the sword in a dumpster and rescued it.

When it was discussed unofficially with members of the Faculty, they found that it would be less likely to removed if it were not visible from Convocation Hall. Thus, over several months, a new plan was hatched to recreate the monument in front of the main entrance to the Sandford Fleming Building.

Original Sword in the Stone unveiling in front of SF

Re-construction of the Sword in the Stone

Shortly after the removal of the original sword, the Sword in the Stone was re-erected in front of the main entrance of the building. When the Sword was re-erected, a time capsule was placed into the base as a historical tribute. The capsule, however, did not survive the subsequent removal of the sword years later.

In 2003, the sword was again removed following renovations to King's College Road and the stone entrance path to the Sandford Fleming Building. It was originally promised by the contractors that the sword would be replaced, but the sword was removed, and never placed back in its original location. The sword was chiseled out of the concrete and cut from its base for storage by members of the BFC, who continue to possess the original sword to this day.

In recent years, the original sword has been brought out for special appearances by the BFC at several events, such as the post-offer reception.

The Second Sword in the Stone

After the removal of the original sword from the front lawn of the Sandford Fleming Building, a group of students began to plan for a new, sturdier sword. In 2006, the Engineering Society approved $4,500 of funding for the new sword project (though only $2,500 was ultimately spent on the sword itself). This was pivotal, as the cultural significance of the sword became lost on students who had never seen the sword after it was removed in 2003.

The new sword project also faced opposition from the Faculty, who opposed the original placement of the sword in front of Sandford Fleming. A public campaign titled Help Save the Sword Project was launched by members of the BFC, who had finished construction of the new sword but kept it hidden.

Negotiations with the Faculty stalled over the location and placement of the sword, as it raised many controversies over its symbolic meaning and the group of students behind the project. Critics raised issue with the 'aggressive' symbol represented by the sword, and some felt that it was unprofessional and not representative of the student body. Many students and alumni also felt no connection to the sword, as it had only been standing for a relatively short period of about five years.

Most of the opposition was also concerned with cost, as neither the Faculty nor the Alumni Association were willing to pay for the cost of installation. In 2008, EngSoc approved an additional $1,100 for the construction and installation of the concrete base and a bronze plaque.

Bottle used by Mario Baker to unveil the Sword in the Stone

Unveiling of the Sword

The sword was finally installed in the summer of 2008 in the Galbraith Garden, and officially unveiled on September 4, 2008 during F!rosh Week. During the unveiling, a speech was given to a large crowd of first years and selected F!rosh Leaders to commemorate the occasion. The sword was wrapped in flash paper before the ceremony, and was set on fire by the BFC for its official unveiling. A large champagne bottle was then broken over the concrete base by Mario Baker.


Plaque and Inscription

Original plaque from the Sword in the Stone, displayed at an alumni event

The original sword in the stone was accompanied by a plaque quoting the 14th-century alliterative poem Alliterative Morte Arthure:

"For he that is blemist with this brode brande blinne shall he never."

The quote is translated as "For he who is wounded with this broad sword shall never cease bleeding".

For the second sword, the Sword Project that helped make the monument possible also sought input from supporters for the content of the new plaque as well as the Faculty. Suggestions included quotes relating to philosophy, society, science, and the profession of engineering. The final plaque reads:

"An Engineer's responsibility to Society is represented by the Sword of Damocles, which dangles precariously from the thread of Knowledge imparted by this institution. Mistakes cannot be covered, Failures cannot be buried and Obligation cannot be denied; to accept Bad Workmanship is to sever the Trust of our Calling and strike tragedy upon us all."

The plaque references the Sword of Damocles, a Greek legend in which a sword was hung precariously over Damocles (a courtier in the service of Dionysius II of Syracuse) as he sat on Dionysius' throne in order to demonstrate to him a sense of constant fear which accompanied the responsibilities and fortune of the king.

This anecdote was favoured for its analogy to the engineering profession, which required constant attention from each engineer to avoid the inherent risks and to properly carry out the responsibilities of the profession.

The second iteration of the sword also carried a Latin engraving on the sword pommel:

"Exima Normam Provocat Res"

The inscription was transcribed by a Professor of Latin, and translates roughly to the English idiom "the exception proves the rule", a variation of the original Latin legal phrase, "exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis". A nod to the inscription was included on the McMaster Sword in the Stone, which had "Disrupto Ergo Sum" engraved on its pommel.

Additional Information

From Chris Colohan (COMP 9T7, LGMB Leedur 9T5-9T6):

Hi there! I read your posting on the "Save the Sword" group, and was going to post some more info for you, but don't know my way around Facebook well enough to post. Perhaps you can take this info and forward it to the group?

Background: I was in Skule from 92-97 (COMP 9T7), and was LGMB leedur and Skule Stage Band director 95-96.

I joined Skule in '92. That was not too long after the BFC got in deep trouble for some vandalism of the Varsity building (which I _think_ was in '89 or '90, but I am not sure). This vandalism was fairly crass and sexist, and as a result the BFC was officially disbanded and all official connection with the Engineering Society was cut off. The group was supposed to just go away, and that would make the political (and possibly legal) problems this vandalism incident incurred go away too. As far as I can tell, a small group of people kept the BFC alive, but without any official support.

In support of the now nonexistant BFC, someone printed a large number of vinyl stickers featuring a blue and gold shield with a sword on it. (I don't know how long these stickers existed, or if they predated the "banning of the BFC. But there were _lots_ of them around, and they were sold out of the Skule Store.) Members of the now nonexistant BFC took to putting these durable stickers up on every flat and visible surface they could find in downtown Toronto. If you look hard you may still find some in the damndest places.

Grad pranks were pretty popular back then. Many of the grad pranks (especially CIV and GEO) would involve erecting a "permanent" monument to the graduating class -- often constructed out of concrete, steel and plenty of rebar so it would be hard to remove and last a while. The faculty seemed to tolerate this as long as the pranks were safe, not _too_ ugly, and inoffensive. The folks in the now non-existent BFC though that leaving a monument to themselves as a "sword in the stone" would help folks remember them, even though others were working to make sure they were forgotten.

So a few guys got together and welded themselves up a large sword. They got some folks in a CIV lab to help them with casting a very large block of concrete to set it in (I think is was 8'x8'x3'). This was a new form of experimental extra hard concrete. They put all sorts of rebar in it. They let it set for a couple of months in a hidden location so the concrete would be even harder (making the stone harder to destroy). They then, in the middle of the night, hired a crane to lift the stone onto the lawn in front of Sanford Fleming (facing Convocation hall), and cut the loops of rebar used to move the stone off flush.

The stone was discovered by the faculty the next morning. By 10am there was a crew of three workers attacking it with jackhammers. By 4pm it was gone. Some of my CIV friends claimed that this was the longest they have ever seen a piece of concrete stand up to such an assault with jackhammers.

The folks from the non-existent BFC were disheartened. But one of them managed to find the sword poking out of a dumpster, and rescued it. They unofficially talked to some of the decision makers in the department, and found out that it was less likely to be demolished quite so quickly if it was not visible from Convocation hall. So, over several months, they came up with a plan to recreate their monument in front of the main entrance to Sanford Fleming. In the middle of the night, it reappeared. And that is the last place I saw it, when I left Skule for grad school in '97...

So if you get opposition to this sword project from faculty that have been around for a while, one reason may be due to the associations with the BFC. The BFC caused some pretty major administrative headaches when I was there, and also did a pretty good job of upsetting some people (often on purpose).

Hopefully this info is useful, and good luck!


From Joe McNamara (Mek 9T9 +1 + PEY):

That was good feedback from Chris, and I can add to the story a little with the details of the installation outside of SF as I was a part of it.

First of all I want to say that we did not have any official permission to put the sword up in front of SF, but because we did not put it up with any malice intent, but as a monument to the spirit of the U of T engineering students, the university left it until the construction.

Also you will be able to pitch this as a historical thing, when we erected the sword in the stone in front of SF we placed a time capsule in it, but it was a late thought, so it did not have much structure to it, and I heard it did not survive, but it is still a good sales pitch.

What we did was pre build the forms needed for the base (about 6x6x3 feet) and prepared the sword with a rebar base of about 5 x 5 feet and filled the centre of the sword with rebar and epoxy so the sword could not be removed from the base (see the photos linked to this group)

We spent Friday night (starting around midnight) setting up the forms, positioning the sword,and adding rebar to the inside. We drilled into the concrete pads and then place rebar in the holes and bent them over, then the inside was filled with rebar in every direction around the sword base and the pieces anchored into the ground.

we had a concrete truck show up about 6 am Saturday morning to fill the form and then trowelled the top and placed the brass plaque with curved screws onto the surface and covered if with a trap to keep the weather out.

We set up a 24 hour watch to make sure no one tried to add their initials or damage the monument while the cement set.

We then unvailed it on Monday.

I think that you have made a great effort to go through the right channels, but they are giving you the run around. The last I spoke to anyone about this was quite a while ago, but at that point Eng Soc did not even have physical possession of the sword, the university did.

You need to get the sword back, it is Eng Soc property (as when it was originally made the BFC was still a part of Eng Soc). Once you hav ethe sword I think the university and Alumni will take you a little more seriously as they know that it may just show up as it has previously. If they have feedback on how and where it will be erected, they are more like to move things forward. If not just do it.

But remember, you want it too look good, so try to to have it match the surroundings. Our original base size was determined by matching it to the dimension of the planter that was there originally, so it kind of flowed with the surroundings.

I haven't been down to Skule (TM) in quite some, but if I had some pictures I would be glad to help with suggestions.

It has been too long since it was taken down, and needs to go up somewhere, and soon.

Also, if you have any questions please let me know. That's my 2 cents worth

Joe McNamara Mek 9T9 +1 + PEY