Skule Community: Our History and Traditions – Part 1

29 days to go…!


As we slowly ramp up to September and the start of school, it’s about time that I spend a blog post or two introducing you all to the history and traditions of our community. 

A couple of quick notes before we get started:

I’ll just mention that while a lot of our traditions and stories are based off of documented historical moments, some of the stories have yet to be proved as factual. So if I say something is a “story”, it just means we don’t know for certain whether it happened exactly like it’s told, or if at all. I also want to note that I’m describing these traditions from my perspective, and I know not everyone shares this point-of-view. A lot of what I talk about will be discussed in further detail by your leaders during F!rosh Week next month, so don’t hesitate to ask them about all of this if you’d like to learn more.

Lastly, an important disclaimer:

We’re lucky in U of T Engineering to be part of Skule, a community with a long and rich history dating back over 130 years. At the same time, my peers and I continue to acknowledge that our history is not perfect and we aren’t proud of every moment in its past. While we can’t erase certain moments of Skule’s history, nor should we try to pretend they never happened, we can promise as a community to do better and be better in order to promote an inclusive space for learning. There has been a lot of growth and maturity in Skule’s culture over the years, so when you start in September as a 2T4 we hope you’ll join us in continuing to make our community a safe, inclusive, and thriving environment for all.

Thank you, let’s get started!


Purple Purple Purple!

Maybe you’ve heard it: Engineering is purple and purple is engineering. We LOVE the colour purple here in Skule. Our engineering community has embraced the colour purple, putting it all on our insignia and clothing, writing songs about it, and trying to convince all our non-engineering friends that it is truly the greatest colour.

Students wearing hard hats and purple dye

F!rosh Week 1T9 honouring the tradition by recreating purple arm bands with dye and string. Source_Katrina Meng,

The history behind WHY we like to don the colour purple ties into our community values. If you visit another Canadian Engineering school especially in Ontario, they’ll probably know the story many tell behind the purple obsession.

It goes like this: 

“One verifiable fact is that the British Merchant Naval Engineers are distinguished from other types of officers by the colour purple on the piping of the officer’s braid, a feature still common on certain uniforms today. It is also said that during the World Wars, the Royal Military Corps of Engineers wore purple armbands to distinguish themselves as members of their profession. Their sweat and the brine from their working conditions caused the dye from the arm bands to seep into their skin, dyeing a patch of skin purple. These engineers were highly respected and celebrated as people of personal sacrifice, always ensuring that they did whatever was in their power to repair damage endured by sinking ships, allowing passengers more time to escape to safety. Engrossed in their life-saving efforts, the engineering often made the ultimate sacrifice, and slipped into the depths along with the failing ships.”

During F!rosh Week, first years have the option of wearing purple swag or colouring part of their arm purple with dye. However you choose to honour the purple, you’re honouring the history of many hardworking people who devoted their lives to helping others – and I think that’s really cool and something I love about engineering.


Iron Ring

We like Engineering, so we put an (iron) ring on it 🙂

At the culmination of your final year in Engineering, you are eligible to receive an Iron Ring that you may keep for life. The iron ring is worn by engineering graduates of institutions all across Canada and the United States. The full history of how this first got started in 1922 can be found here. I won’t get into too much detail about it, but feel free to read up about it more.

two students with iron rings

EngSci 1T9 Iron Ring Reception. Source_William Ye,Division of EngSci

At U of T, the Iron Ring Ceremony is typically held over a weekend in the middle of the Winter semester. It’s held separate from graduation (“convocation” as it’s called in university) because only full-status engineers and the graduating class are allowed to be in the room. The ceremony is so secretive and mysterious that nobody will tell me what happens during it (believe me, I’ve asked just about everyone who’s been through it – I get zilch). After the ceremony is over, graduates are treated to a reception hosted by their engineering department where they can celebrate their accomplishment with family and friends. This past year’s graduating class was really lucky in that their iron ring ceremony happened back in February, weeks before the university would eventually close for quarantine. 

While there’s no definitive answer as to the exact history of how the tradition of the iron ring came to be, we at Skule are told the following story:

Legend has it that a bridge collapsed over a hundred years ago in Quebec due to poor engineering practices. They took the iron from the bridge and forged the iron rings for engineers to wear. The ring is worn on the pinky finger of your dominant hand and is there to remind you of your social responsibility as an engineer. If you were a doctor or a lawyer, your main concern would be for your patient or client. As an engineer, we have an even bigger responsibility in scale. We have to make sure everything we do benefits society and is safe for people to use. When you’re signing off on a project you can hear the sound your ring makes against the paper and table to remind you to make sure the project deserves your signature. 

Even though today’s rings probably don’t come from an old bridge, the significance of the ring as a reminder of one’s obligation to safety and equity as an engineer, lives on to this day.

Because of how widespread the iron ring is in Canada and around the world, it has become a subtle but unique way that engineers notice one another out in public. My mom is an engineering graduate herself, and I’ve seen her wear her iron ring practically every day of my life. Whenever we go out and meet people, almost always the engineers will notice the ring which ends up sparking a conversation and sometimes even a friendship.

I look forward to the day when I get to attend my Iron Ring Ceremony. While the ring itself is a very pretty accessory to have, I’ll cherish it because it’ll represent the completion of many years of hard work in school, and will mark the beginning of a new life as an engineer devoted to ethical and responsible practices

That’s all for now, I’ll be back next week with more traditions and pieces of history to share with you.

See you soon!



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