Canadian Engineers? They Have A Ring About Them

How can you spot an engineer? It can be tricky, but it is a little easier in Canada. That’s because many Canadian engineers have been through the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer and wear an iron or steel ring to symbolize their profession. The ring has a very odd history that originated in 1922 as the brainchild of Professor H. E. T. Haultain. While he may not be a recognizable name, at least one famous person was involved with creating the Ritual.

H. E. T. Haultain

The ring itself has facets on the outer surface, and you wear it on the little finger of your dominant hand. Originally handmade, the ring reminds the wearer of the engineer’s moral, ethical, and professional commitment. In addition to being a visible reminder, the ring is made to drag slightly as you write or draw, as a constant reminder of the engineer’s obligation. With more experience, the ridges wear down, dragging less as you get more experience.

There is a rumor that the first rings were made from the metal of a bridge that collapsed due to poor design, but this appears untrue. The presentation ceremony is understated, with limited attendance and very little publicity.

The Ceremony

An iron ring (CC-BY-SA-2.5 by [PCStuff])
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the ceremony is who developed it. While the idea was Haultain’s, a mining engineer, he called on someone famous to create the ceremony: Rudyard Kipling. Kipling’s poem The Sons of Martha, is, on the face of it, about a biblical story. But a deeper reading shows that the Sons of Martha are the engineers that make the world work.

Rudyard Kipling, the man behind the ceremony

Kipling created the ceremony to create unity among members of the profession and to remind engineers of their obligations to block faulty workmanship and materials. The organization that oversees the ring ceremony is the Corporation of the Seven Wardens, which divides Canada into 28 camps. The Seven Wardens refer to the original group of past presidents of the Engineering Institute of Canada.

The Toronto camp confers iron rings. However, these become loose with time and tend to turn the finger black, so all the other camps have switched to stainless. Apparently, even in Toronto, you can request a stainless ring.

The first ceremony was in April 1925 in Montreal. A month later, a ceremony in Toronto followed. At first, it was somewhat informal, but in 1935 the ceremony was copyrighted. The Corporation of the Seven Wardens was incorporated officially in 1938. The Corporation provides a mission statement: “To enable graduates of accredited engineering programs in Canada to commit to ethical conduct.” Their vision statement is similar: “To foster ethical conduct as a lifelong obligation for engineers educated in Canada.”

Controversy and Elsewhere

Like many things from the early part of the twentieth century, the ritual doesn’t reflect modern sensibilities in some ways. There have been several efforts to modernize the ceremony, and it seems the Corporation is taking both public comments and wants to commission a new poem for the ceremony.

There was some thought to spread the ceremony to other countries, notably the United States. However, they finally decided that doing so might relinquish some control over the ceremony. The rings, then, remained part of the Great White North.

In 1970, a similar organization was formed to foster the same ideas in the United States. However, the Order of the Engineer doesn’t seem as well-known as its Canadian progenitor. That’s a shame, though, because we applaud the ideals put forth by both organizations. It is easy to realize that designing a bridge, an airplane, or an explosive device requires the utmost care. But, in fact, everyone who designs things should be mindful of their potential for harm and act accordingly. A 3D printer seems innocuous until it burns down your house. While you’d think licensed professional engineers have an edge, they also make mistakes.

100 thoughts on “Canadian Engineers? They Have A Ring About Them

  1. I will always remember the excitement and anticipation I felt in the spring of 1978 when the day of the mysterious secret iron ring ceremony approached. Only other engineers were allowed to attend and some of my classmates invited family members who were engineers to put the ring on their finger. Mine was placed by the president of Shell Canada.

    I still wear my ring with pride even though I am now retired.

          1. At the end of the 70ies there were a few papers that posited a new ice age that combined with then unusually cold winters to cause a huge amount of hype in popular media. I think one had warmer air causing added snowfall in polar regions causing higher albedo thus triggering a feedback loop. Okay….

            But repeating that “they said that there would been an ice-age” over and over if fucking harmful because it implies “they might be wrong now”. There was no fucking consensus at the time that there would be a new ice-age.

      1. Don’t feel too bad. Personally, I passed on it at university. I had already been an engineer for 15 years before I decided to get my degree. A secret ceremony just seemed a little too silly to me. I don’t for a second think that its anything nefarious, but I deeply believe that engineers should embrace transparency everywhere possible. We should vigilant not give any impression that our loyalties lie other than where we declare them, and professional fraternities have done just that in other professions. You can say it’s a foolish fear, and I agree, but it’s true nonetheless.

  2. Very interesting, as I’d been told that engineers don’t wear rings because they would be a safety hazard for someone who often has their hands in the vicinity of moving parts.

      1. Are you licensed with the appropriate provincial or territorial engineering regulator? Otherwise you might be in violation of s. 3(1)(a)(ii) of the Engineers and Geoscience Professions Act.

          1. So are they trying to say my degree in Computer Science from the College of Engineering at my university isn’t an engineering degree? Bold claim.

          2. @Prowler50mil

            Actually yes: in Italy for example you can get a “software engineering” degree and a “computer science” one. The one from the engineering branch has the same 1st year exams as other engineering degrees like electrical and mechanics, the computer science one doesn’t.

    1. A lot of engineers, probably most, these days design and program stuff, they don’t build and handle machines. That’s what mechanics and operators are for. Although i count myself lucky as i have been doing that stuff too even as an engineer.

      I could buy an engineer ring from the engineer union, but i made my own. I do take if off sometimes when i’m messing with stuff.

    1. Many of us also never wear or plain hide our rings due to the fact that people who see the ring, know you can solve problems and constantly ask you how to fix things. This is outside people with proud parents telling their friends about their “successful’ child, and getting random calls about “How do I fix/do/make ____”

      As much as it is symbol to be proud of, it makes engineers easy marks for other undesirable behavior/attention. I know for myself, many felt like I could “afford to pay” for meals/drinks since engineers are seen as “well off”.

      Relative to the pay of American Engineers, we’re still grossly underpaid (and way overtaxed like many Canadians relative to services) for our skillet vs the value we bring to an organization.

      Its why many of my peers as soon as they got that ring, left for the US, got a 25% paybump due to currency conversion, before stocks/bonuses and higher salaries in general.

      Can say for certain though, the life of an engineer isn’t exactly roses in this day and age. I’ve transitioned from Electrical->Embedded->Software, and its certainly got its challenges.

      1. >Its why many of my peers as soon as they got that ring, left for the US, got a 25% paybump due to currency conversion, before stocks/bonuses and higher salaries in general.

        Meanwhile, my US graduates have disappeared into finance since the math is easier and the pay scales astronomical. Sadly, most of them have not been through the “bust” part of the boom-and-bust in that sector.

  3. I can say without hesitation that earning this ring can be entirely meaningless in some Canadian engineering companies. Maybe some engineering firms put their engineers through their paces and make them do actual engineering. But I worked for a software development company which was primarily staffed by electrical engineers. The new engineers would put in their time to get their P Eng ring.

    Except there was one tiny problem. They were doing web development. Not only web development, but fairly crappy web development. No unit tests, no real automated integration tests, old tech, bugs galore, a rancid code review process, no actual “engineering” when it came to planning things, terrible security, to the point of almost using best practices as a list of things to avoid.

    After winning a bid, surprise the developers with the list of weird features the customer wanted. The development process was make a list of features added or modified to make the software work for a new customer, make a bunch of tickets for those features, have various developers wail away at getting them done. QA was a manual process for a massive product. Do a customer review to see if they could be fooled into accepting the hot steaming pile of garbage, then do an install, which often was also an integration with other systems. Send some of the top “engineers” to perform heroics to get it to marginally function. Argue with the customer about accepting the install. Fix the worst complaints of the customer. Then eventually badger them into signing off so the company could get paid for another milestone. And with no possible payments in the immediate future, entirely ignore the bleating customer who was discovering they had a steaming pile of trash. But every now and then when a maintenance payment was coming up, knock off a few of the most pressing issues so the payment would happen.

    And every handful of months, celebrate another engineer being awarded their PEng; and then watching that worker quit as they were just waiting for this as they had mentally quit some time previously.

    And to put some icing on this quality cake, have some CS people quitting the company because they, and I quote, “I don’t want blood on my hands.” because much of what they did very much was “mission critical” or “safety critical”

    To be clear, the industrial assets being managed by this software typically were in the multi billion dollar range. Often, tens of billions.

    1. Do note that the iron ring in the article and the PEng designations you’re talking about are entirely separate and mean very different things. PEng is a professional designation with actual legal implications while the iron ring is a symbolic piece of metal given to engineering graduates. That said, I don’t doubt what you’re describing about attitudes about PEng in some companies.

  4. Same in Mexico, but without the ceremony, usually made of gold with the emblem of your Alma mater, the year and/or your initials. Funny fact, when you are student, usually your fingers are slim and the ring starts to annoy after a few years, specially if you workout or your new job requires physical efforts :)

  5. I wish the US had the same/similar ring ceremony. It would be great if more US engineers would obtain their PE license and the idea of the ring ceremony would help to promote this goal.
    M Walter, P.E. (ret)

    1. PEs are only required for those engineering fields that are approaching ‘cook book’.

      Basically: EEs only get PEs if they are going into power. Civils all get PEs.

      What were they going to do in 1990? Have power engineers mentor/supervise software engineers as they made things up as they went along?

      I know there is now a software engineer PE test, but nobody cares. I guess it carries more weight than something like a A+, I’ve honestly never met a PE software engineer.

      1. I’m glad Order of the Engineer and PE are not the same thing here in the US. Being responsible and being licensed are two very different things. As HaHa said, PEs are useful for EEs and Civils, but those of us in fields that don’t even have a discipline-specific test (Ceramic Engineer here) don’t have a lot of use for a license.

        I knew one person in the whole Mat Sci/Eng department who had his PE. A few of us passed the EIT exam but never bothered with or had the opportunity to work under a licensed engineer since it wasn’t relevant to our discipline. More power to the disciplines where it makes sense, but I’d reckon that accepting a mantle of responsible conduct is relevant to everyone.

        Unfortunately, I think a lot fewer people took the opportunity to join Order of the Engineer than pursued their PE since there’s no financial advantage to it.

  6. The problem I see with Professional Engineers is that they are sometimes clueless.

    As an example, a licensed PE signed off on a brain dead report produced by the Air Force Research Lab. (a branch anyway). What was this PE’s particular area of expertise? No idea. Just a PE.

    I hadn’t heard of this ring thing or anything like it when I graduated from Okie State. As for the ethics, I noticed a few years ago that ABET had altered their requirements so that a specific course in engineering ethics was no longer required. The assumption being that you would soak it up via osmosis or something in your other courses. That worked out so badly before that they want to try it again.

    1. There are people with official ‘prestigious’ credentials who are sometimes clueless in every profession. Board certified surgeons or partners at law firms. This isn’t a professional engineer thing, it’s a people thing.

    2. ABET, and the schools, are responding to the competing pressures between (1) there’s always new stuff being added in engineering fields and (2) completing an engineering degree in eight semesters had become quite, unusual. We’re at the point now where we’re running a lock-step program with no free electives and if undergrads don’t come in with some AP credits then the odds of completing in eight semesters isn’t good…

      Anyway, yeah – ABET has been allowing some courses to be dropped. At the same time, Provosts have been having screaming hissy fits insisting we not give up on breadth. I suspect some school will change their one last history class requirement to “history of numerical solutions methods” and then all hell will break loose.

      Every few years the idea of switching to an “entry level masters” or “entry level professional doctorate” model comes up again. The Allied Health Professions went this way a long time ago – there is no “B.S. in Physical Therapy” anymore… it’s a DPT or nothing. It’s not unusual to see a combined “BS in Health Sciences + DPT”, for instance, that completes in 6 years. I expect engineering will go that way, eventually. Otherwise, we’ll get insanely silo’ed. “RF Engineering” will be separate from “Power Distribution Engineering”, and the whole engineering licensing scheme will have to be re-thought.

      Here’s one to think about: a handful of law schools will admit students who don’t have bachelor’s degrees (but do require pretty good LSAT scores). The “straight out of high school, five year MS in Whatever Engineering with no intervening BS degree” is theoretically possible.

      1. When I looked at the EE degree planning sheet at Okie State last week, I did see 15-16 hours each semester. 18 being the usual maximum without special treatment. So still a four year degree. But without all of that engineering science (dynamics, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, materials science, etc.) they were so proud of when I was an undergrad.

        EE is a pretty broad subject area. The BS should cover the basics and then if you want to specialize, get a MS.

      2. Circa 1970 MIT had no history courses except military history for the ROTC students. Nonetheless, there was a requirement to take 8 humanities classes during the 4 years usually needed to get a bachelor’s degree. That was a bad thing; the MIT humanities department was somewhere left of chairman Mao. I doubt that it’s gotten better.

  7. My friend’s a software engineer and has one. I’m quite envious; it seems like a very cool thing albeit in respect/reflection of a terrible tragedy. I’ve debated on and off going back to school to become a software engineer myself but I’m afraid I’m just terrible -terrible- at math.

    1. You’ll be average.

      90% of ‘software engineers’ were ‘promised no math’, 50% are net negative workers. Very very few actually have engineering degrees. CS is more common, but isn’t even close to the same thing. At most schools…CS can come from engineering, but most commonly comes from math, the really shitty programs come from the business school. Never hire those people, or anybody with a BA in a science. They partied too hearty in college.

      ‘Engineer’ is the most abused title on earth.

      1. Back when I got my CS degree, we had to take the Math and Physics courses (all of them, except the quantum mechanics course) including electronics and the labs. I graduated with a CS degree, and one class short of a Math degree. Later, when I was hiring at work I ran into a lot of CS ‘degree’ candidates that needed not have applied due to lack of math and science and electronic backgrounds or even simple CS stuff like couldn’t convert hex to binary or decimal, or add hex numbers. Basic math skills…. Sheesh….. Weird how colleges ‘watered down’ the curriculum from when I was in school. I don’t call myself an Engineer even if I did have to take software engineering courses in school. Nor was I interested in getting a PE (could have).

        1. If you were qualified to take the EIT/PE you went to a CS program taught out of a accredited engineering school.
          One of the good ones.

          You’ve met CS grads where CS is in the business school. Air thieves, every one. Could be MBAs, can’t tell the difference. Some drown when it rains and they look up with mouths hanging open.

          1. Actually, one may apply for an EIT without attending an accredited program.

            However, during the EIT application process, your program details will be scrutinised in painful detail for equivalency with an accredited program. Attending an accredited program bypasses this entire process.

            A colleague with a physics degree from Cuba emerged successful from such an ordeal after approximately two years.

        2. It’s because they need to maintain the pass-through ratio. There’s lots more things to teach, less money and time for teaching, so you can’t do stuff like drill hex to binary conversion or anything that requires rote memorization and repetition – the students won’t pass the exam and a good 60-70% of them will re-try the exam several times before finally passing at the minimum level.

          Especially after the lockdown and “online education”, there’s been a big problem with students simply having terrible learning techniques. They expect to be able to fire up google and find answers in three seconds, and become completely clueless without it.

      2. “Engineer is the most abused title on earth.” … Not in Canada. You cannot call yourself an Engineer or have it in your job title without being registered and licensed by the regional Engineering Association. If one is in breach, then a formal letter is sent and if still in breach, then legal proceedings will start against you and/or company. Engineering, etc is regulated and legislated and so there is no way around it.
        That said, there has been some recent controversies and push back, as some firms want to call their software teams, etc Engineers… which cannot be done. For those that do write software and are not Engineers and/or not registered, then they can simply be called Software Developers, creators, etc… but I guess to some they “fancy” the title as Engineer.
        I should also mention that the term Engineer applies to companies as well. Companies are treated similarly as to individuals, as the term Engineer, Engineering, etc cannot be used in the Corporate name, letterhead, etc without being registered and obtaining an Engineering Permit.
        Lastly… some may ask what does it “buy” you to work with an Engineer or Engineering firm?… Professional liability which is in contrast to many firm’s that perform work or services by simply offering services. If something goes awry, there is little recourse to non Engineer or firm… which is certainly not the case with registered Engineers (called P.Eng or Professional Engineer) or Engineering firms.

        1. What do they call train drivers in Canada?

          American software teams really do have the most f-ed up job titles. You get promoted from Sr. Software Engineer to Architect…They have bunch of ‘architects’ on a team, then you’ve got ‘senior software architect’, a job title held by many, none of who have authority to change the software design, even a little bit.

          Actual architects are people whos ‘constructions might fall down’, Engineers ‘constructions should be torn down’…per the ancient joke. Analogous to clueless UX designers w art degrees.

      3. You should get off your high horse. At my school, CS major’s math classes were way harder, since we had to do all the proofs, whereas engineers are just glorified calculators (it’s not for nothing that they take “calculus” instead of “real analysis”). My CS masters degree officially qualifies me to bear the engineer title and, being a Hackaday reader, I have certainly built more “engines” with my own hands than many of my ME friends. The lack of rigor in most programming jobs is a different matter, but more a result of popular demand than lack of ability.

  8. I have a ring from the Order of the Engineer in the USA. It’s a little less known but my university had the option for you to participate in the Ceremony and receive your ring. Ours are stainless steel and are worn in the same manner.

    It’s been 10 years and I’m still wearing mine.

  9. I’m paying over $420 a year for P.Eng. professional dues, it is a parasite association that is out of control for what it does in Canada. “Engineer” is a protected title but anyone can be an “Engineering Director” or “Engineering Manager”- which causes problems when the boss tells you to skimp.
    Iron Ring is surprisingly run by volunteers. I miss the old stamped steel ones, nicer than the new CNC machined replicas they issue.

      1. Alberta we have some college grads that can sign off drawings but it’s several years for them to get the official PTech credentials. They wanted civil eng projects to go quickly, so they made a category for techs to do drawing changes, as well as allowing mass immigration of engineers because of the “shortage”. I feel badly for the new engineering grads that have to compete with all this.

    1. You do know that the dues are 100% tax deductible right? Also, being part of the Association allows you to obtain group benefits like auto insurance at much lower rates than elsewhere. For me the reduced auto rates more than pay for my yearly dues. There are other benefits if you dig a little.

      1. Hurrah I did not have to pay income taxes on those dues. US dues are very low by comparison $95, Australia is newly implementing PE and it will no doubt be expensive. You are paying for an entire parasite organization’s lease, wages, etc.

        Imagine you go to school, learn your profession- yet can’t practice it without paying dues and “practice managment program” which is an automated website requiring you enter every hour spent in seminars etc. and full of errors. We will track all your training, seminars etc but do nothing at all about clowns being engineer’s boss.
        Really it’s to ever increase their scope and profit instead of doing anything positive for the engineering profession.
        Now they want the “software engineer” title and associated signoff/stamping of S/W which is a bit ridiculous. There is no proof of S/W correctness. Tesla and Boeing are examples of cowboy software that corporations make, people killed by bad S/W and oh well.

        As far as the membership discounts, a few percent off misses the point entirely.

        1. Professional organizations charge… like it or not. Have you checked into the fees for being a member of the Law Society?… It is about 5x as much.

          I can certainly understand the disdain for unnecessary bureaucracy and/or wasted $… but this is not confined to the Engineering associations, etc. If you are so upset about it, then why not get involved with your local associated and institute change instead of complaining about it?

          As for discounts… here in AB, my auto insurance saving is well over $1K a year… and so is not a few percent by a long shot.

      2. What’s the tax on CD420? Let’s use the maximum rate, it’s CD138.60. You have well and truly drunk the Kool-Ade. Sounds like standard socialist rape to me. And you’re saving CD420 a year on auto insurance? Pull the other one.

        1. That is not how it works… the dues are 100% deducted from your taxable income. That said, in my case I am saving well over $1000 CAN per year with the Engineering Association Insurance group rates which more than pays for the yearly dues. Perhaps you should drink more Kool-Ade instead of talking out of your Arse?

    1. Definitely!
      I was reminded of the ring that some postal workers used to wear.
      It had a curved blade for cutting the strings on packages 📦.
      (Strings would get caught in the package handling equipment, so they were cut off when found)

  10. The ring seems to be an indicator of arrogance. I’ve never met so many arrogant and cocky people in my professional life as engineers, and I’ve made them look stupid on a number of occasions because I often know more than they do, and I’m just a lowly technologist. I had one engineer ask me how relays work. I’m a better engineer than many engineers.

    1. – “I’ve never met so many arrogant and cocky people in my professional life”

      – “ I’ve made them look stupid on a number of occasions because I often know more than they do”

      – “I’m a better engineer than many engineers”

  11. Iron Ring was mainly to prevent the charlatans of the time. There were too many building and bridge collapses due to fake engineers and the Ring was a marker of the bonafide.

    Too bad the Ring is cloaked in failure – built from the iron of big engineering failures. Some collapsed iron work. It puts us all in a place of low self-esteem for our work, in an era where being humble is seen as a weakness, and corporations want engineering cheap and fast instead of solid, safety is a formality to be circumvented in the name of speed and dollars saved.

    I’m both a tech and engineer and yes there are many that don’t even own a soldering iron or multimeter at home. Mom and dad told them to take engineering. They are pretty much useless and jealous of those who earned their craft like the tinkerer/gadgeteer/hacker.

  12. “When someone builds a bridge, he uses engineers who have been certified as knowing what they are doing. Yet when someone builds you a software program, he has no similar certification, even though your safety may be just as dependent upon that software working as it is upon the bridge supporting your weight.”


    “There are no standards for computer programmers and no group to certify them.”
    –David L. Parnas


  13. Yes and no .. for example the two-page graph on page 614 of the November 1976 edition of National Geographic magazine is titled “Toward an uncertain future” and the graph ends has two futures past 1976.. one going up and the other down, labeled “Warmer?” and “Colder? “. The scientist quotes are all along the lines of “we don’t know.. but we really need to figure this out asap”. Exxon scientists internal reports accurately predicted the dangers of CO2 and the greenhouse effect as early as 1977 ( re: Harvard Gazette, January 12 2023 article). So yes.. there’s a possibility he turned a blind eye.

  14. Maybe in Canada they need to apply this sort of ethical system to software engineers and sysadmins too. Particularly given the ethical lapse which was clearly commiteed by a) the bank’s software engineers who in the first place built software with functionality which would let the banks click to suspend the accounts of truckers protestors, and b) the bank’s sysadmins who would actually have been called on to do the dirty deed when the banks bosses got pressured. If engineers had refused to build the system, and/or sysadmins had refused to operate it, or secretly reversed it behind the scenes after a manager had done it, maybe Canada would still be a democracy today.

  15. I got my own iron ring this spring. It’s nice being able to spot other engineers on the spot without asking, although it won’t allow to spot every engineer out there because they are only given to those who got a degree here; not foreign engineers who are fairly numerous in industry.

    They still call them “iron” rings but, the fact is mine isn’t affected by magnets, so until otherwise proven I’ll assume it’s aluminium 😉

    1. Or it could really be stainless which is sometimes not magnetic.

      Not an engineer… at least since I am one of those “foreign” engineers, I can’t call myself that in Canada.

      Despite years of empty promises from the federal government, recognition of training received abroad is a very acute problem for immigrants, and you are being slightly insensitive in your comment. I encourage you to widen your horizons and show a little sympathy for your neighbour. Getting a degree “here” should not make you feel special, materials and maths work the same everywhere. At least, that’s what I heard.

      1. That is certainly not the sentiment I wanted to convey; quite the opposite. I meant that the ring tradition doesn’t represent Canadian engineering as a whole, since it doesn’t put in foreign or degreeless engineers, and lots of people with engineering degrees end up working in other fields anyway.

        Thanks for the heads up on stainless, I didn’t know that.

      2. (As mentioned previously) you can have foreign credentials approved. However, it can be an arduous process. It is, however, simpler if your education falls under the Washington Accord

        The larger issue is obtaining one year of North American experience prior to eligibility for a P.Eng. (rather than EIT).

        The federal government may promise whatever it wishes regarding recognition of foreign engineering credentials. However, the issue is under provincial jurisdiction.

  16. When I graduated at Clarkson w/ my BSME, I passed the EIT and attended the Order of the Engineer and have a stainless ring. I went into Sysadmin so I never progressed for the PE.

    Based on all I learned about factors of safety, modeling for testing and scaling and seeing all the tests Civil Engineers do on things, I think 99% of software is too immature to be engineering.

    Now I do Quality Engineering. It does have some of what I’d call engineering rigor that can be applied to software.

    1. I took a software engineering course in grad school a decade or three ago. Surprisingly little of use.

      I say surprising because the group that developed the software for Apollo (especially the lander) learned a few things that should have trickled down to colleges by then.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.