Ring around the Queensway ─ YES!

"An iron ring around the Queensway would pique the interest of every visiting motorist. Every parent on vacation to the nation’s capital would have to answer questions about it from children in the back seat."New%20Cover%20Shot-238X241.jpg

By Denzil Doyle
Photo Composition by Matthew Claydon
From SCAN's Print Edition

Ottawa’s proposed Innovation Hub, the centrepiece of which “would be one of the grandest buildings in the capital and perhaps Canada” (Ottawa Business Journal, April 30th, 2007), and would serve as a “symbol of innovation,” reminds me of an idea for such a symbol that I have long cherished. The structure would be a large iron ring (stainless steel actually) that would resemble the arch in St. Louis, but would be a full circle instead of an arch, probably encircling a highway or pathway. The high point of the eastbound lanes of the Queensway in Kanata would be a possibility.

The iron ring is one of the most cherished possessions of any Canadian professional engineer. Worn on the little finger of the writing hand, it is presented at a university ceremony called the Ritual of the calling of the Engineer. The ring and the ceremony are intended to remind engineers of their obligations to the profession.

The first such ceremony was held at the University of Toronto in 1925, based on notes compiled by the famous British author, Rudyard Kipling. Asked for his suggestions by an engineer at UofT, Kipling became very involved in the process, even to the point of designing the ring .He insisted that it be rough. “It should not be smoothed at the edges any more than the character of the young.”

There are many myths about the ring. One is that it is made from iron in the Quebec bridge that collapsed in 1907, supposedly because an engineer misplaced a sine for a cosine in the calculations. Another is that it is made by penitentiary inmates. Only the connection to Kipling stands scrutiny. In fact, the rings aren’t made of iron any more, but of stainless steel.

It is a distinctly Canadian tradition. However, rumours abound about engineers in the U.S. wearing them and they are not all part of the brain drain.

An iron ring around the Queensway would pique the interest of every visiting motorist. Every parent on vacation to the nation’s capital would have to answer questions about it from children in the back seat. The typical explanation would be that Ottawa employs a lot of engineers because it has a large high-tech industry. The Ottawa story would be told hundreds of times a day and the symbol would be as familiar as the St. Louis arch, the Parliament buildings, the statue of liberty or the Eiffel tower.

A figure of $125 million has been tossed about for the proposed Innovation Hub Building and the funding would come from all three levels of government. As a taxpayer at all three levels of government, I would prefer to see us spend a fraction of that amount on something like a ring. If a building is needed, we should rent one. When buildings are erected to serve the dual purpose of efficient working space and symbolism, such as the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris, they usually fail in both objectives.

Guru in one guise, angel in another, Denzil Doyle is a member of the Order of Canada, a professional engineer, former CEO of Digital Equipment Corp. in Canada, company director, mentor, consultant, investor and author of the best-selling ‘Making Technology Happen’. He can be reached at ddoyle@doyletechcorp.com.

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