Canadian Consulting Engineer

The World Shifts Tempo June 1959 -June 2009

Preparing this 50th Anniversary issue became an all-absorbing task. Poring through early copies of the magazine was so fascinating I would still be at it now, if it weren't for deadlines.

June 1, 2009   By Bronwen Parsons

Preparing this 50th Anniversary issue became an all-absorbing task. Poring through early copies of the magazine was so fascinating I would still be at it now, if it weren’t for deadlines.

That’s the trouble these days. We live in frenetic times, whether that’s a symptom of computers and the internet, and the endless proliferation of information and possibilities the technology presents, or whether it’s also a byproduct of there simply being many more people on this planet. Each single human being born brings new energy, his or her issues, and accompanying complexities.

At any rate things seemed to have been a lot calmer –and hence more productive –in former times.

Take Carson Morrison, the magazine’s founding editor. He managed to launch and run his own firm –the still successful Morrison Hershfield. He taught engineering at the University of Toronto for over 40 years. And he found the energy and initiative to launch the magazine, to write editorial comments for every issue, and to take a lead in establishing the Canadian Consulting Engineering Awards.

Leafing through the yellowing, fragile pages of the earliest copies, you come across some surprising things. Aside from the easy, leisurely pace of the writing and graphics, the content seems to cover a huge scope; it’s as if the authors always had one eye on the technology and the other cast on the far horizon. They seem to have felt deeply connected to the great social and economic movements at play in the wider world.

They also had a great optimism and forcefulness. Everything was possible, and it’s evident engineers were eager to take charge. So there were futuristic articles suggesting domed cities for Canada’s far north, or articles extolling automated highways where vehicles would drive on to a kind of conveyor belt. There was much coverage of nuclear power as the great energy provider, as well as early promptings to develop renewable power.

Human nature doesn’t change much, though, and it’s interesting to read how North American engineers back in the 1970s were anxious about being overwhelmed by the huge numbers of Soviets being trained as engineers. At conferences today we hear similar fears being expressed about burgeoning armies of engineers in places like China.

Then there’s the most startling item I stumbled across. In the June 1969 issue, a small news item described the innovative structural design of the World Trade Centre (see page 30). The world has certainly changed since those towers came crashing down, and we’ll never know to what degree the 9/11 hijackers took account of the towers’ structural design when planning the attack.

It may be mundane at this point to wonder whether this magazine will be around in another 50 years, and what will be the course of history over that period. Still, one can’t help but speculate that while we’ve seen some dramatic transformations in the last 50 years –not least in technology and engineering –We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.


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