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July-August 2013

Origin of the Personal Pledge

The following letter, which includes part of a second letter, was received in response to last December’s column, “The Importance of a Personal Pledge”:

I read with interest the article “The Importance of a Personal Pledge,” in which Tara Hoke refers to the Canadian Corporation of the Seven Wardens and Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer. Her description of the Quebec Bridge collapse in 1907 is fairly accurate but is in no way associated with the creation of the Canadian Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer and the Corporation of the Seven Wardens.

In 2005, I had interesting correspondence with Suzanne Leckband, P.E., a longtime former member of the Order of the Engineer’s board of governors. My letter of November 7, 2005, is reproduced below. It is a bit lengthy but provides some clarifications that are appropriate.

Dear Ms. Leckband,

The origin of the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer can best be summarized as follows:

At the thirty-sixth Annual Professional Meeting of The Engineering Institute of Canada in Montreal on January 25th, 1922, the luncheon speaker was Professor Herbert E.T. Haultain of the University of Toronto. In his address, entitled “The Romance of Engineering,” he urged the development of a tribal spirit among engineers.

Invited to enlarge upon his idea at the retiring President’s dinner that evening, Professor Haultain suggested the development of an oath or a creed to which the young graduate in engineering could subscribe, something in the form of the Hippocratic Oath in the medical profession. Dr John Fairbairn, Chief Engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, was the Past-President in the chair. At Professor Haultain’s suggestion, the seven Past-Presidents in attendance at the dinner were then constituted as the Committee to act on the proposal.

In October 1923, Professor Haultain inquired to the Chairman of the Committee, Dr. Fairbairn, if it would be possible to interest Rudyard Kipling in the development of a creed, Mr. Kipling having a wonderful insight into the engineer as in so many other things.

Dr. Fairbairn wrote to Rudyard Kipling on October 18th, 1923 and on November 9th, Mr. Kipling sent to Professor Haultain The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer together with the notes that are now part of the Ritual. Mr. Kipling expressed his preference for the word “Obligation” over the word “oath.”

The inaugural ceremony of the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer was held on April 25th, 1925 in Montreal.”

The custody of the Ritual was vested by Mr. Kipling in the seven Past-Presidents of The Engineering Institute of Canada who had formed the Committee and they became the original seven Wardens of the Corporation of the Seven Wardens, custodians and administrators of The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer. The provision for their perpetuation by co-option was also laid down by Mr. Kipling.

The sample hammered-finish rings sent to Mr. Kipling by Professor Haultain were quite rough and rudimentary and it was mentioned that rings, in the future, may be turned out with a better finish. Mr. Kipling objected saying: “The Ring is now an Ancient Landmark not to be deviated from. It is an allegory in itself. It is rough as the mind of the young engineer. It is not smoothed off at the edges any more than the character of the young. It is hand-hammered all round—and the young have all their hammerings coming to them.... I would not depart by a shade from the make and nature of the Original Ring.”

Professor Haultain in Toronto looked after the production of the original wrought-iron rings. These were produced as part of the rehabilitation program at the Christie Street Hospital for WWI veterans. As the required number of iron rings increased, so did the hammering noise in the hospital!!! Production was then contracted to machine shops. Since the late sixties, rings are generally made of stainless steel but wrought-iron rings are still available.

I believe that the Order of the Engineer in the U.S. adopted a smooth-finish ring not to infringe on the trademark of the hammered-finish ring held by The Corporation of the Seven Wardens in Canada and in the U.S.

As you can see, we are far from the Quebec Bridge disaster for the origin of The Ritual as well as for fabrication of the original rings. However, the myth persists and we do not go out of our way to dissipate it. As I said before, when a Canadian bridge is damaged or fails in some way, there is always some engineer around to ask if the future iron rings will be fabricated from beams or other parts of the damaged structure!!!

There are 26 Camps across Canada, each with their seven Camp Wardens and a number of Alternate Wardens ready to take over. The seven Corporate Wardens have delegated to the Wardens of each Camp the authority to perform the Ritual. Ceremonies are conducted by each Camp on average twice a year to obligate candidates as they graduate in the Spring or late Fall.

Each Camp keeps a comprehensive record of all obligated candidates since the establishment of the Camp. Engineers can obtain ring replacements from any of the Camps, but must prove when and where they were obligated. As of December 31st 2011, 386,074 engineers had been obligated at 2,644 Obligation Ceremonies across Canada. [NOTE. Totals have been updated to December 2011.]

Close friends and relatives (usually limited to 4 per candidate because of space) are invited to witness the performance of the Ritual in some Camps. Cost and space are the main limiting factors for other Camps, where only previously obligated engineers are in attendance and form the Camp for the duration of the Ceremony. It is a must that ceremonies be solemn and dignified. The press and the public at large are not invited to keep the ambience “private” not “secret” by any means.

The Corporation of the Seven Wardens and its 26 Camps are totally independent from the Engineering Schools, Professional Associations of Engineers (licensing bodies), Technical Societies and any other engineering organizations in Canada....

In 1972, Mr. Gerry Martin, Eng., then Chief Warden of The Corporation of the Seven Wardens, wrote to the Chair of the Order in New York to inform him of the tacit approval of the Seven Wardens to the establishment of the Order of the Engineer in the U.S.

I hope that this document will help clarify certain misunderstandings about the Canadian Ritual. You may wish to draw the attention of your readers on some of the points and please do not hesitate to contact me if you still have unanswered questions.

With best regards,
Rémy G. Dussault, Eng. F.EIC, F.CSCE, F.CSSE, F.ASCE
Chief Warden, The Corporation of the Seven Wardens, Inc.


I would like to thank the author of this letter for the interesting details about the formation of the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer. While it is perhaps only a popular misconception that the ritual was a direct result of the bridge collapse in Québec, it seems fair to say that the collapse had a profound impact on the engineering profession and was a fillip to efforts to formulate ethical obligations. These responsibilities are currently embodied in, among other places, canon 1 of ASCE’s Code of Ethics: “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.”

Writing in the September 5, 1907, edition, shortly after the bridge collapse, the editors of Engineering News-Record pointed out that “public confidence in engineers and engineering constructors and in the safety and reliability of their works is an asset of the whole engineering profession. To have this public confidence receive such a blow as this at Quebec is a loss almost incalculable. For decades to come, the Quebec disaster will be quoted, in public and in private, as an unanswerable proof of the unreliability of engineers and their works—of even the best engineers.”

Whether a conscious reaction to this and similar engineering failures or simply a recognition of the risks attendant upon increasingly ambitious engineering projects, significant efforts were made in the years that followed the bridge collapse to ensure the “reliability” of engineering works and to restore public confidence in the profession. These efforts included the establishment of engineering licensure and various regulations in both Canada and the United States, the rise of such standards organizations as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and the adoption of codes of professional conduct by ASCE and similar societies. —TARA HOKE

Members who have an ethics question or would like to file a complaint with the Committee on Professional Conduct may call ASCE’s hotline at (703) 295-6061 or (800) 548-ASCE (2723), extension 6061. The attorneys staffing this line can provide advice on how to handle an ethics issue or file a complaint. Please note that individual facts and circumstances vary from case to case, that some details may have been altered for purposes of illustration or confidentiality, and that the general summary information contained in these case studies is not to be construed as a precedent binding upon the Society.

Tara Hoke is ASCE’s assistant general counsel and a contributing editor to Civil Engineering.

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