Image Credit: J. León
Among the oldest traditions within the architectural profession in Canada is the ring worn by many architectural graduates on the little finger of their drafting hand. The ring - made of iron, stainless steel or silver - is meant to act as a reminder of an architect’s sworn professional obligation, including the social and ethical responsibilities of the profession, and its tradition dates back to the early days of architectural education in Canada, when architecture emerged as a discipline within faculties and schools of engineering.
The ring, and its associated ritual and oath, dates back to 1922, when during the 36th annual meeting of the Engineering Institute of Canada (EIC), Professor Herbert Edward Terrick Haultain of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering (which then included the small but growing Department of Architecture) suggested the development of an oath for engineers in similar fashion to the medical Hippocratic Oath. The idea was well received and work quickly began in developing both the oath, known as the obligation, and the ceremony around it.
While Haultain was the initiator of the idea, it would be the noted poet and author Rudyard Kipling – author of The Jungle Book
– who would develop the ritual surrounding the ring. Haultain had corresponded with Kipling after observing that many of Kipling’s poems and writings made reference to the work of engineers, and together – along with considerable consultation with the seven past presidents of the EIC – they developed the ceremony and oath known as “The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer”.
From its inception the Ritual has been voluntary and does not confer any professional qualifications on the wearer of the ring. Instead, the Ritual is meant to direct the newly qualified graduate towards a consciousness of the profession and its social significance, while indicating to the more experienced professionals their responsibilities in welcoming and supporting the new generation. Below is the text of the obligation as found in the files of Lt. Col. Henry Harrison Madill, graduate of the University of Toronto Architecture Department in 1913, Director of the School of Architecture (1934-1957), and Chairman of Ontario’s Architecture Registration Board:
“I,…………………………………….. , in the presence of these my betters and my equals in my Calling, bind myself upon my Honour and Cold Iron, that, to the best of my knowledge and power, I will not hence forward suffer or pass, or be privy to the passing of, Bad Workmanship or Faculty Material in aught that concerns my works before men as an Engineer, or in my dealings with my own Soul before my Maker.
My Time I will not refuse; my Thought I will not grudge; my Care I will not deny towards the honour, use, stability and perfection of any works to which I may be called to set my hand.
My Fair Wages for that work I will openly take. My Reputation in my Calling I will honourably guard; but I will in no way go about to compass or wrest judgment or gratification from any one with whom I may deal. And further, I will early and warily strive my uttermost against professional jealousy or the belittling of my working-brothers, in any field of their labour.
For my assured failures and derelictions, I ask pardon beforehand of my betters and my equals in my Calling here assembled; praying that in the hour of my temptations, weakness and wariness, the memory of this my Obligation and of the company before whom it was entered into, may return to me to aid, comfort and restrain.”
The first ceremony was held 25 April, 1925, followed by two more ceremonies on 1 May, 1925. Between 1925 and 1949, hundreds of engineers (including dozens of architects) across Ontario and Canada passed through the ritual. The original rings, known as the obligation rings, were initially made from puddled wrought iron, hand hammered by First World War veterans at the Christie Street Military Hospital. Faceted in design, the ring is to be worn on the little finger of the drafting hand so that every time the ring comes in contact with the drafting table, the graduate would be reminded of the obligation it represents. As time passes by (and the graduate gains experience) the edges of the ring become smoother and the reminder more subtle.
The ring would achieve a new significance for many Ontario architects in 1950, a year after the University of Toronto’s School of Architecture – Ontario’s only architecture program at the time - gained administrative and pedagogical independence from the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. It would be this year that architecture students would find themselves in need of developing their own distinct ring, the Silver Ring, after being excluded from partaking in the decades long-tradition.
In a letter dated March 22, 1950 to Professor Haultain in response to an invitation to participate in the Ritual, Director H.H. Madill of the newly independent School of Architecture explains the origins of the Silver Ring.
“Last session was the first in which the School of Architecture operated separately from the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. The students raised the question as to whether they would be entitled to the Iron ring or whether they should develop a ring of their own. Their only interest in the Iron Ring was to cement the good relations which had existed with the engineers and they hope that these relations will continue. I understand that, when the students enquired about this, they were told quite abruptly that they were not eligible.
They then developed a ring of their own which is a plain silver band and a ritual of its presentation. I believe that the other Schools of Architecture in Canada are taking up this ring, although at Manitoba and at British Columbia they are eligible for the Iron Ring.
Since they asked me to accept the first Silver Ring, and since I cannot wear two such rings, I do not see any point in applying for the Iron Ring.”
Today, graduates of professional architecture programs across Canada continue to receive the ring, some made of the traditional iron while others sport the defiant silver ring. In some schools the ring is still deeply entrenched within its engineering origins, an integral component of a much larger ritual, while in others little is left of the ceremony and obligation. Still, the ring - whether iron, stainless steel or silver – symbolizes the pride we have in our profession, while serving as a reminder of our profession’s long history and architecture's social and ethical responsibilities. Traditions such as the ring bring us closer together as a profession, building a sense of comradery and shared history.
University of Toronto Archives, Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer