- EIC Archives Collection at Ontario Tech Library (click on “The Collections” once on their site)
- Search the digitized Engineering Journal/Transactions
- Browse EIC’s Collection of Engineering History Papers
Origins of the Engineering Institute of Canada (EIC):
The present Vision Statement of the Engineering Institute of Canada (EIC) states that one of its objectives is the promotion of awareness of the history of engineering in this country. Not only is the general public quite unaware of it, the engineering profession is almost equally so. This activity of EIC is also part of the business of enhancing the image of engineers and recording their contributions to the nation’s development over many years.
Since 1887, the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers – and the Engineering Institute of Canada that it became in 1918 – have contributed in a variety of ways to the recording of the history of engineering in Canada and by Canadians. For example, the original Transactions of the Society, as well as the Institute’s Engineering Journal that appeared from 1918 until 1987, have published papers that were written as historical records or have become part of the corpus of engineering history with the passage of time. Both the original Society and the Institute established medals and other awards to recognize meritorious technical writing, professional achievement and service by their members, and the Institute continues to do so. The two institutions also took steps to preserve at least some of their archival material in the National Archives and elsewhere, and the Institute is continuing this practice to this day.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the Institute sponsored a Biographies Committee that published material in this field, none of which is still in print. A number of memorial plaques recording professional achievements have been erected, some quite recently. In the 1970s, the Institute participated with the federal government in a program to identify heritage engineering sites across Canada. During the early 1980s, it sponsored a History & Heritage Committee. In 1987 it participated in the Centennial of Engineering as a Profession and, as part of this year-long festival, in the selection of the most outstanding Canadian engineering achievements during the previous one hundred years. Several of EIC’s present Member Societies also have history-related activities that include the publication of books and papers and the plaquing of sites and institutions.
In 1991, a Secretary for History & Archives was appointed by the Council of the Institute to initiate a focused program that would help to increase awareness of the engineer’s role in Canadian development. Steps were also taken to collect, analyse and store archival material reflecting the activities of the EIC over the years and, when active, its regions, branches and committees. Research was initiated into the evolution of the Institute as a whole, as well as into the development of other engineering-related institutions in Canada and abroad and into the technical side of engineering generally. The submission for publication and/or archival purposes of career-based autobiographical material by senior and retired engineers was also encouraged. Since the EIC Council approved their publication in 1995, a series of Working Papers in these fields has been in preparation. Those published so far are listed and their contents described elsewhere in this sub-section of the website. EIC also took the lead in supporting a profession-wide committee to make recommendations to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada with regard to nationally significant engineering achievements. The EIC Life Members’ Organization and the Member Societies within the EIC Federation were helpful in the development of this program.
In June 1999, as part of a general revision of EIC’s by-laws, the Council decided to establish a Standing Committee for History & Archives whose terms-of-reference would absorb the duties of the H&A Secretary and the profession-wide committee. The Council decided that the membership of the new SCH&A would include representatives of the EIC and its Member Societies and the Life Members’ Organization, as well as several non-EIC ‘learned’ societies and a number of professional historians associated with the engineering field. It would be chaired by the Institute representative. The terms-of-reference that had been developed for the Committee were approved by the Council in March 2000 and the full Committee met for the first time in June to develop the elements of its program and projects for the year or more ahead. The thrust of these activities are to coincide with the Institute’s Vision Statement. The Committee is also to:
- Collaborate with the History Committees of the member Societies of the Institute to encourage the publication and dissemination of new information related to the history of engineering in Canada
- Publish or broadcast through the various media, historical information on the Institute itself, the engineering profession, Canadian engineers and their activities, and specific engineering projects
- Collaborate with the Historic Sites and Monuments board of Canada and other public and private institutions to ensure that significant achievements by Canadian engineers are adequately commemorated
- Encourage cooperation with academic, public and private institutions, associations and other organizations with similar interests and objectives
- Promote the collection, secure storage and accessibility for research of archival material associated with the Institute, its Member Societies and the engineering profession
EIC Persons of National Historic Significance
Members of the Engineering Institute of Canada and its predecessor the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers who are recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) as persons of national historic significance:
- Charles Camsell
- Sandford Fleming
- Percy Girouard
- Casimir S. Gzowski
- T.C. Keefer
- John Kennedy
- Elsie Gregory MacGill
- Charles A. Magrath
- Phillip Louis Pratley
- Wallace Turnbull
The EIC also recommends to the HSMBC engineering sites to be plaqued and included in their list of National Historic Sites of Canada.
Thomas C. Keefer
Founding President, CSCE, 1887
Also President of the Society in 1897
Eminent engineer and essayist, Thomas was born in Thorold, UC in 1821 and educated at Upper Canada College. He was a canal builder, railway surveyor, designer and builder of significant hydraulic engineering works in Montreal, Hamilton and Ottawa.
Sir Casimir Gzowski
Founding Vice-President, CSCE, 1887
Born in Poland in 1813, he was exiled by Russia to the USA in 1833 and emigrated to Canada in 1842. Superintendent of roads, waterways, harbours, roads and bridges, including the Fort Erie-Buffalo international bridge. Aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria. Knighted in 1890.
Sir John Kennedy
Founding Vice-President, CSCE, 1887
President in 1892
Born in Spencerville, UC, 1838, John Kennedy was educated at McGill University. Railway Engineer, later Chief Engineer of the Montreal Harbour Commission for over 30 years and leading developer of the international port. He became blind in 1907 but continued as a consulting engineer. Founding member of the Canadian Engineering Standards Association (now the CSA) Knighted in 1916.
Elizabeth Muriel Gregory ‘Elsie’ MacGill
First EIC Woman Member (1938) and FEIC (1972)
Chair of former EIC Lakehead Branch
Elizabeth (Elsie) Muriel Gregory MacGill, OC, aeronautical engineer, feminist, was born in 1905 in Vancouver, BC and died in 1980 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Elsie MacGill was the first woman to earn a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering (1929). She was also the first practising Canadian woman engineer and woman member of the EIC. In 1938, she became chief aeronautical engineer of Canadian Car & Foundry (Can Car). There, she headed the Canadian production of Hawker Hurricane fighter planes during the Second World War. An active feminist, MacGill was national president of the Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs (1962–64). She was also a member of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada (1967–70).
EIC’s Collection of Engineering History Papers
A collection of Engineering History Papers can be viewed on this page (click).
Book review: “Robert Owen King: Engineer, Scientist, and Inventor”, by M.F. Bardon G.R. Perras, and J.G. Lindsay, 2023, printed by Blurb, Inc.
In a biography-style treatise, the authors expand in this book on the 2008 article on the professional Odyssey of a renowned Canadian engineer, R.O. King (The Northern Mariner/le marin du nord, XVIII No. 2, April 2008, pp. 85-119). This well-written and well-researched book covers both the personal and professional life of a formidable engineer, who practised the profession for almost 65 years (1895-1959) up to the age of 85. This is a period that spanned two world wars and saw many technological developments and the evolution of engineering as a regulated profession. Those of us who have heard of R O. King know him for his pioneered work on hydrogen as fuel for spark ignition engines. They may not know however that he did this in 1948 at the age of 74, well beyond the then mandatory retirement age of 65. The book explains how he managed to sustain a career beyond that age and how he managed to have multiple careers as machinist, engineer, businessman, entrepreneur, and researcher.
Nine of the book’s chapters chronologically cover the various stages in King’s career, while the first and last chapters are introductory and introspective, respectively. The Introduction gives a history of the regulation of the engineering practice in Canada that began in 1888 in Quebec but did not start in Ontario until 1937. The book has seven appendices with brief biographies of R.O. King’s father (also an inventor and an entrepreneur), his wife and her family (including her uncle George Stephen, who participated in the creation of the transcontinental railway), and some snippets about King’s family. The other appendices are lists of his patents (34) and publications (61), notes about the authors and a list the book’s figures. However, the book would have benefited from an index at the end. The writing is smooth and easy to follow, while being supported by photographs, illustrations, and extensive citations. The technical content is well explained in a manner that makes it understandable by general readers and appreciated by experts. The human aspects are addressed in an honest manner, reflecting the man’s humanity, his passion, and idiosyncrasies.
Senior engineers reading this book will find themselves reflecting on their own careers. Engineers in mid-career will be comforted by the fact that the challenges they are facing at the personal and professional levels are not different from those faced by an accomplished legendary engineer. Early-career engineers will learn that flexibility, creativity, and opportunity can lead to a rewarding career. Recalling the success of our predecessors is, in my view essential, for sustaining our present and our future. As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Robert Owen King is one of those engineering giants as this biography demonstrates.
Reviewer: Esam Hussein, P.Eng., FCSSE
Book review: “On Cold Iron: A Story of Hubris and the 1907 Quebec Bridge Collapse”
– a Foreword Clarion Review (reproduced by the EIC with permission)
“On Cold Iron, Dan Levert’s history and critique of the 1907 collapse of the Quebec Bridge, starts with an extended account of the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer as a reminder of an engineer’s obligations. Nobel Laureate Rudyard Kipling designed the ceremony, including its solemn oath and bestowal of iron rings.
The structural failure of the huge iron bridge claimed 76 lives, some of whom were trapped in the wreckage and drowned as the tide crept in. Since it was first performed in 1925, more than half a million Canadian engineering graduates have been “Obligated, on Cold Iron,” and Levert’s analysis details why this ritual is so “uniquely Canadian” and so meaningful to the country’s engineering profession.
The bulk of the book concerns the design and construction of the Quebec Bridge, which was ultimately completed in 1917 (though tragically not without another fatal major accident), and which still remains the longest cantilever bridge in the world. Plans for a bridge to connect historic Quebec City across the St. Lawrence River to railroad connections had begun as early as 1851, but the river’s daunting cliffs, tidal changes, ice jams, and maritime traffic were formidable technical challenges. No bridge had yet been designed or built to span 1,800 feet, and the costs were judged too great to proceed. It wasn’t until 1887 that a private Quebec Bridge Company was created, supported by generous governmental subsidies, and plans were developed for this unprecedented construction project. It was hoped to be finished in time for the Prince of Wales to be able to stroll across as part of Quebec City’s 1908 tercentenary celebrations.
As a civil engineer, Levert gives a knowledgeable and detailed account of what the many personalities in the bridge design and construction did well and did poorly. The Quebec Bridge People, from First Nations riveting gangs to underqualified, overconfident engineers, are helpfully summarized for easy reference in short biographies in the rear matter. There are also numerous photographs of the bridge under construction and after its destruction, as well as a technical glossary and illustrations, that enhance the text.
For the most part, Levert’s chronology is cool and journalistic, though he inserts frosty condemnation for instances where critical mistakes or assumptions were made. He has no tolerance for inadequate testing of designs, sloppy management, or for the government’s complete abdication of their oversight role. His most passionate writing comes in the later chapters, when he reviews the Royal Commission of Inquiry’s investigations and findings. Here, Levert highlights some of the most dramatic and poignant survivor stories and hones in on numerous unanswered questions and avenues of investigation.
On Cold Iron is an outstanding historical and technical study of an avoidable human tragedy. Levert is generous with his professional knowledge and well describes the arcana of bridge design and construction for a general audience. This book is a great addition to the literature of Canadian history and popular science, and a cautionary tale about the importance of rigorous professional practices and oversight in matters of public safety.”
About On Cold Iron’s author: Dan Levert was Obligated in 1978. His rough edges, and those on his Ring, have been smoothed over with time. He has been a professional engineer since 1981. From 1998 2000, he was the president and CEO of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers (now Engineers Canada). Dan is also a lawyer who practices construction law. Information on where to obtain paperback, hardcopy or eBook editions of On Cold Iron is available on this website: https://www.oncoldiron.ca/.
Book review: “Gentlemen Engineers: The working lives of Frank and Walter Shanly”
The engineer brothers, Walter and Francis (Frank) Shanly – two of Canada’s most prominent engineers in the late 19th century – were the subject of a biographical work, Daylight Through The Mountain, by Frank and Gladys Walker, published in 1957 by the Engineering Institute of Canada, but no longer in print. Much more recently, the lives of the Shanlys were captured by Richard White in his book Gentlemen Engineers: The Working Lives of Frank and Walter Shanly published in 1999 by the University of Toronto Press.
This eminently readable 200-page narrative has a strong element of social history that covers the transition of a family with roots in the rural Irish gentry into a group of related individuals operating as North American urban professionals. The book has three parts. The first covers the Shanly family background in Ireland and its emigration to Canada. It goes on to describe how Walter and Frank learned the business of engineering and the contributions both made up to the mid-1850s. The second follows the career of Frank from 1855 to his sudden death in 1882 and of Walter from 1855 to his death forty-four years later. In the third part, which is quite short, the author discusses his thesis that the brothers were indeed gentlemen engineers. There are, of course, some photographs plus an index and a bibliography. This book should please the general reader and the professional engineer as well as other historians.
The author is currently a freelance historian and university-level teacher. The research for the book was done originally for academic thesis purposes within the Department of History at the University of Toronto.The book was published with the help of grants from the Humanities and Social Sciences Federation of Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council. It retails for $60. Order enquiries should be made to the UofT Press, 5201 Dufferin Street, North York, Ontario M3H 5T8. 1-800-565-9523, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Book review : “The Skule Story: The University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering 1873-2000”
For the second time in two years, Richard White has produced a well-written book of considerable interest and importance for the history of engineering in Canada. Commissioned, as part of the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, The Skule Story required two years of research and writing before it appeared in 2000. Once again, it is strongly narrative, with an evident element of social history. But it also includes an illuminating discussion of the issues in engineering education in this country over the years since it was first offered through the universities.
The view the author takes is principally the one seen from the Faculty Office and through the eyes of the person in charge – first the principal of the School of Practical Science (SPS) and later the dean of the Faculty (FASE). His main themes are the (usually evolutionary) change within the School/Faculty, who brought the change about, and the Faculty’s influence on the Ontario economy. White also describes, as appropriate for his text, the growth and development of the individual disciplines and departments within SPS/FASE, but make no attempt to be definitive. The book is divided into five chapters, each covering roughly a quarter of a century and taking between 40 and 60 pages to do so. There are at the beginning the usual prefaces and a useful map of the Faculty’s buildings on campus. At the end are five supplementary sections taking up a further 70 pages, including a most useful list of “Works Consulted” and an index. At the very end, to supplement the main text, there is a pull-out that shows the development of the disciplines and departments of SPS/FASE from 1878 to 2000. There are photographs every four pages or so throughout the main text – mostly of people, buildings, classrooms and student activities.
The author is himself a UofT graduate in history. He is currently a freelance historian and university-level teacher. His book was published by the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at UofT and is being distributed on behalf of FASE by the University of Toronto Press, from whom copies may be ordered (5201 Dufferin Street, Toronto, Ontario M3H 5T8, 1-800-565-9523, or email@example.com. The price for alumni, professors and students of FASE is $30 per copy and, for others, $40.
“The Coast Connection”
“Carving the Western Path Through B.C.’s Southern Mountains”
“Carving the Western Path Through Central and Northern B.C.”
In his review, which appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of the Canadian Civil Engineer, Peter Hart discusses these three books by R.G. Harvey, as well as EIC History Working Paper 9/2001, “Turning an Engineer into an Author,” which Harvey also wrote and which describes the genesis, writing and publication of these books. The first of them was published in 1994 by Oolichan Books, Lantzville, B.C., and the other two in 1998 and 1999 by Heritage House Publishing Company, Surrey, B.C.. The three, together, describe the development of transportation systems on the mainland of British Columbia, a process in which the author took part, lately as deputy minister of Transportation and Highways. As Hart notes, all three books are well illustrated and include some excellent maps drawn by the author. As he also notes, Harvey brings to his accounts a refreshing honesty regarding the machinations of the politicians and railways in obtaining special deals from the Province. Harvey’s work on the books earned him the W. Gordon Plewes Award of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering in 2001.
For more information regarding this page, please contact: Guy Gosselin, EIC Executive Director