Canadian Consulting Engineer

HUMAN EDGE: Traditions

During a conference for female engineers held in Toronto, some participants suggested the Iron Ring ceremony was an antiquated and chauvinistic tradition that had outlived its time. But Kim Farwell, P.Eng. rose and spoke passionately in its...

June 1, 2011   Canadian Consulting Engineer

During a conference for female engineers held in Toronto, some participants suggested the Iron Ring ceremony was an antiquated and chauvinistic tradition that had outlived its time. But Kim Farwell, P.Eng. rose and spoke passionately in its defence. CCE recently asked her to explain her views further.

Ms. Farwell is the immediate past-president of APEGGA, the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta. She is employed as operations support lead for extraction with Syncrude in Fort McMurray.

The ceremony, formally known as the “Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer,” was formulated by English writer Rudyard Kipling in 1922 at the request of H.E.T. Haultain and past presidents of the Engineering Institute of Canada. Participants make promises (the Obligation), and are given the iron ring to wear on the little finger of their working hand. The ritual is still held on a voluntary basis for engineering graduates in universities across Canada (Wikipedia).

Q. Why do you think that the Iron Ring ceremony is still an important tradition?

It is a ceremony that is unique to Canada, unique to Canadian engineers, and has some very significant historical references.

One of the things I will say up front, though, is that the ceremony and the Obligation are intended to be secret. Some Camps have recently chosen to open the ceremony to the families of the obligated engineers. But the family is asked not to take pictures or use voice recorders, and they are told that the ceremony is secret.

There is still a school of thought that even talking about the ceremony and making it more public is not in the best interests of the Obligation.

But the evidence I saw in the meeting in Ontario was that we’re going to do ourselves a disservice by not publicizing some aspects of the history and about the brother and sisterhood that engineers join when they have gone through the ceremony. That obligation that we participate in gives us a higher sense of our relevance to society.

Q. How do you respond to those who argue that we’re in a different Millennium and it is time to shed these kinds of rituals?

I would ask them, Why? Why would you not be honoured to be part of an organization that has this deeply entrenched history? Because the Obligation is no less relevant today, though the types of words used are not necessarily how we would say the same thought.

The thing that I think people get caught up in is the reference to a Biblical passage. But it’s not a religious ceremony. Kipling uses the Bible no differently than any of the literary greats use it as a reference. So instead of writing a paragraph about the ceremony, he wrote a poem (which is public) that referred to the Gospel passage about sisters Mary and Martha, with our profession as the sons of Martha. For his time this would be a very strong reference and extremely complimentary to engineers in the context of the society in which he participated.

Q. Do you think the ceremony should be slightly changed?

I don’t think the ceremony itself should change at all. But the words we say around it and about it, and how we help people to understand what its relevance is historically and in today’s context can definitely be improved.

It’s not chauvinistic. It just uses the proper English pronoun that you use to describe a human being, which is “he.” Rudyard Kipling wouldn’t write in the terms of “they,” which is not proper English, because he wrote it in 1922. Anything written in that timeframe would be written in that form.

To me, as I say, the relevance and the context is more important than whether the words specifically reflect today’s time, because hopefully this ceremony is still in existence in 1,000 years. cce


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