The biographies in this collection span much of three centuries, from 1728 to our present day. This covers the whole period of development of engineering education in Eastern Canada, beginning with its introduction at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton (1785), Queen’s University, Kingston (1841), Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal (1873), the Ontario School of Practical Science at the University of Toronto (1873), the Ontario Agricultural College, Guelph (1874), and the Royal Military College, Kingston (1876). The 1960s brought the great expansion of engineering education at other institutions. As engineering education developed, so did the practice of professional engineering.
This project focuses on the development of engineering in Southwestern Ontario, following the arrival of the first European settlers. Volunteers for this project were invited (see Introduction, page 5) “to discover, explore, record and publish information about individual persons and their contribution to the development of engineering within the Western Region of Ontario, and prior to 1922.” The Association of Professional Engineers of the Province of Ontario (APEO) was established in 1922. As I was born in 1920, my introduction to, and practice of, professional engineering was guided by accredited engineering education and the APEO. Neither of these two sources of support was available to the majority of people referred to in this collection.
I was invited to write about an individual biographical subject, but I did not. Instead, I have responded to two opportunities provided to me by my reading of the collection. The first opportunity was to recognize and record some common achievements by all of the biographical subjects; the second opportunity was to acknowledge the ways in which their contributions affected my engineering experience. This is my response to those opportunities.
The collection contains 36 biographical subjects, their achievements, and the colleagues with whom they worked. These achievements, initiated prior to 1922, proceeded without guidance by public standards of practice for professional engineering or the APEO. Still, all of their achievements contribute to “a unique and valuable tradition which continues to influence engineering to this day” (see Introduction, page 3). Some specific contributions to that tradition are as follows.
“Technical Specialty” and “Social Role”
One central contribution common to all biographical subjects in this collection is a unique application of a “technical specialty” in a “social role.” The social role of each subject’s technical specialty is reflected in the caption given to each biographical sketch. A specific example is Will Adye-White’s contribution on Thomas C. Brainerd (1837-1910). Brainerd’s “social role” includes assistance to ongoing 19th-century expansion into western Canada. Brainerd’s “technical specialty” was high velocity explosive, which helped to open a westward passage for the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian society of his day. Thus, Brainerd’s biography is headlined by the caption “His Technical Specialty is High Velocity Explosive that Blasted a Passage for Canadian Expansion Westwards.” Another example is the contribution of Dr. Albert E. Berry, P.Eng. (1894-1984). The caption to Dr. Berry’s biography reads “His Technical Specialty is the Microbiology of Pollution to Fight Disease in Human Settlement.”
All biographical subjects are portrayed as playing a “social role” in relation to a “technical specialty.” Following the example of the subjects of this collection, I, too, acquired a “technical specialty.” Different from the majority of those subjects, my “technical specialty” began with a university education in mechanical engineering. Like Holland, Keefer, Brainerd, MacLaren and Berry, my early “social role” included voluntary wartime service.
Leadership by Personal Example
Another contribution by each biographical subject is leadership by personal example. Three kinds of such leadership are evident. First, each person served the public interest through a unique kind of “technical specialty.” For example, Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1886-1932) served the public interest by inventing ways to apply his continuous wave theory.
Second, each person protected the public interest. Fessenden kept his inventions out of the hands of unscrupulous private interests, and his inventions contribute to safety for travel by sea. His leadership is expressed by the caption to his biography. Written by his son, it states: “By His Genius, Distant Lands Converse and Men Sail Unafraid Upon the Deep.”
The third example of leadership is to pursue guidance by durable knowledge and experience in service to and protection of the public interest. The third example is referred to in all of the captions in the collection. All captions refer to a “technical specialty” still considered to be current, although new knowledge has accrued in it, and the name may have changed.
All of the subjects in this collection successfully gained the public trust by voluntarily serving and protecting the public interest. After registration as a professional engineer (P.Eng.) my first duty, assigned by APEO (now PEO), is to serve and protect the public interest, guided by continuous learning and related experience.
Going Beyond the Technical Past
Another kind of contribution flows from the incorporation within engineering of the basic human impulse to move beyond the technical past and not to be satisfied with the status quo. Examples from this collection include John C. Thede’s (1854-1943) privately-owned electricity-for-profit venture that replaced coal-oil lamps with incandescent electric lights in Wiarton, Ontario. Sir Adam Beck’s (1857-1925) publicly-owned “Hydro” later replaced John C. Thede’s privately-owned enterprise.
Engineering work in the field of food industry replaced the supply of potentially tainted milk with safe pasteurized milk. Other innovations in Adelaide Hoodless’ (1857-1910) “Domestic Science” included manual training for women and new ways to protect society against contaminated commercial food products. To protect public health, Dr. Berry’s (1894-1984) sanitary engineering treated raw sewage rather than disposing it in open fields, as it was during Hoodless’ days.
The Beattys introduced commercial shipping where none was previously available on the Great Lakes. “Black Gold” miners supplied petroleum products from crude petroleum discovered within the Western Region. All of the people in this collection invented ways to go beyond the technical past. Moving beyond the technical past continues to call for changes in most, if not every, “technical specialty” inside and outside of the Western Region.
As in the preceding examples, peaceful applications for my “technical specialty” of mechanical engineering would shift from hydro power to nuclear power for the generation of electricity in human settlement. That is still work in progress.
Going Beyond the Social Past
Moves beyond the technical past complement human movement beyond the social past. In this collection, Samuel Holland (1728-1801) and Thomas Ridout (1754-1829) were guided by moves beyond the social past as they helped to alter patterns of human settlement. Both died before other people in this collection were prompted again to move beyond the social past as Confederation and the British North America Act (1867) were brought forward.
The British North America Act transformed Upper and Lower Canada from colony status to the nation of Canada, a diverse society across four provinces, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. After Confederation, the Great Gold Rush of 1898, in which Henry Beatty (1834-1914) participated, extended Canadian society into the extreme Northwest. With help from Thomas C. Brainerd (1837-1910), the Canadian Pacific Railway joined Canada from sea to sea.
The building of the CPR opened the West for Canadians eager to relocate, and for diverse immigrants not only from England, Scotland and Ireland, but from Scandinavia, Poland, Hungary, and the Ukraine. During 1905, Alberta and Saskatchewan were added to Confederation and young James F. MacLaren was supplied with new territory for his surveys. Canada’s multicultural heritage soon expanded far beyond the French or English stereotypes. At that time, however, the rights of Canada’s First Nations were not on the agenda.
In 1931, the Statute of Westminster nudged Canada again beyond the social past to confirm Canada’s status as a self-governing nation in the British Commonwealth. Earlier, in 1922, APEO was designed to be a self-governing association. Social changes in university education moved all engineers beyond their personal technical past into a “technical specialty,” be it aeronautical, business, chemical, civil, industrial or any other engineering specialty. As noted, in my case, it was mechanical engineering
After World War II, by the 1970s, engineers in the Western Region were challenged by new social requirements. By public demand, their “social role” expanded beyond Dr. Berry’s protection of public health to include protection of the physical and biological environment.
In 1982, the Constitutional Act, accompanied by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms advanced the engineer’s “social role” once more. The change was designed to contribute to the protection of the rights and freedoms of an individual person while serving and protecting the public interest at large. This offers new challenges to move beyond the technical and the social past.
In 1999, Canada began to redress its social past with yet another territorial change, when the new territory of Nunavut was created. The emblem for Nunavut is the “inuksuk”. By Ferguson’s account,
Inuksuk come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and serve a number of purposes. Gate shaped cairns, built in a line across the landscape, serve as aids for navigation; you look through and line up the next one in the distance. Smaller ones, adorned with flapping scarecrow-like sprigs of arctic heather, help to herd caribou toward accessible hunting grounds. Some inuksuk point the way to food caches (31).
The Inuit meaning for inuksuk is “that which stands for man.”
In the way of the “inuksuk,” the examples provided by the pioneers in this collection helped to point out the way for my engineering career over the past 60 years. I am privileged to have learned from them. I believe that the views I express here faithfully reflect the views held by my engineering colleagues. Since my views are not unique, I will remain anonymous–a representative of ongoing practitioners of professional engineering.