Engineering in Canada


What are some interesting facts about the history of engineering in Canada?


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  • 1500's

    Indigenous Foundations

    As Europeans began to move and settle in Canada, there were new demands put on the land.  Long before these settlers came, the indigenous peoples of Canada developed goods and set up social systems that were in balance with the land.  Although these were useful to the settlers, their desire to build a new society required the help of traditional technologies.

    Jacques Cartier at Hochelaga (Montréal)
    Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • 1500's-1800's

    Military Influence

    For hundreds of years, “engineer” meant military engineer.  These engineers built defensive forts and military weapons.  A good example of the excellent skills of these engineers is the fortification of Louisbourg in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  This fort, founded in 1713, used gunpowder to protect itself against attackers.  Visit to read more on the history of this fortification.

    A plan of the city and fortifications of Louisburg
    Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • 1800's

    Royal Engineers

    The Royal Engineers were the longest serving British military unit stationed in Nova Scotia.  One of their activities in the last quarter of the 19th century was to take photographs of the military landscape of Halifax.  Visit to read more about the Royal Engineers and view the photographs of the garrison city taken from 1870 to 1885.

    Badge of the UK Royal Engineers
    Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • 1800's

    Non-Military Engineering

    During the 19th century, more and more engineering became civil, non-military.  This was the beginning of the specialization in engineering.

    19th Century Boring Machine in Toronto
    Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • 1800's

    Expansion of Infrastructure

    The need to improve the transportation system through canals and railways highlighted the work of civil engineers in Canada.

  • 1800's

    Colonel John By

    The Rideau Canal in Ontario, built in 1832, is one of Canada’s greatest engineering achievements of that century.  This project was supervised by one of Canada’s greatest early engineers, Colonel John By.  This was a turning point for engineers in Canada.  It was the event that clearly defined what it meant to be a Canadian engineer.  When the engineers tried to build a dam at a narrow part of the Rideau River, European techniques failed them every time. Only when they started to use local materials and labour and they adapted the current technology to fit the local situation, did they succeed.  From then on, Canadian engineers used these principles as they worked all over the world.

    Colonel By observing the construction of the Rideau Canal 1826
    Source: Archives of Ontario
  • 1800's

    Shubenacadie Canal System

    Lock #5 of the Shubenacadie Canal System in Wellington, Nova Scotia represents a significant local achievement in civil engineering.  The lock, first build in 1828, was an important part of the 115 kilometer trans-province inland waterway that consisted of nine locks and seven lakes.  This canal linked the Halifax harbour to the Bay of Fundy.  Visit to watch videos and read more on the history of this canal.

  • 1800's


    Railways were the most important training ground for Canadian engineers.  Building railways such as the Canadian Pacific offered significant challenges. As a result Canadian engineers became known around the world for their ability to build railways quickly and inexpensively.

    Locomotive no. 132 crossing Mountain Creek Bridge near summit, B.C.
    Source: Library and Archives Canada
  • 1887

    Canadian Society of Civil Engineers

    In 1887, a group of engineers formed the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers.  This was an important first step to establishing high standards and determining licensing requirements later on.

  • 1800's - 1900's

    Expansion of Engineering Disciplines in Canada

    By the late 19th century and into the 20th century, the engineering profession in Canada increased in diversity and specialization with such projects as electric power development; transformation of mining; Trans-Canada Highway; grain elevators and petroleum engineering in Western Canada; aircraft for flying in the bush in Northern Canada; specialized snow and off-road vehicles; and many more.

  • 1900's

    Elsie MacGill

    During WWII, a female professional engineer, Elsie MacGill was the chief aeronautical engineer at Canadian Car & Foundry Co. in Ontario.  She supervised the production of over 2,000 Hawker Hurricane fighters.  She was a pioneer for women in engineering.

    Elsie MacGill during her CCF tenure
    Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • 1900's - Present

    Post World War II

    A post war boom required an increase in telecommunications technology.  The Microwave System and the Alouette satellites rank in the top ten outstanding engineering achievements of the 20th century.

    Alouette-1 model
    Source: Canadian Space Agency

The History of Engineering in Canada

The engineering profession has made important contributions to Canada’s history and culture and is essential for future developments.

Visit the Canadian Encylopeidia Website for a detailed account on the history of engineering in Canada.

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    Source 1: The Canadian Encyclopedia Website

    History of Engineering

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    Read More 1: Fortress of Louisbourg


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    Read More 2: The Province of Nova Scotia Website

    The Royal Engineers in Halifax

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    Read More 3: The Shubenacadie Canal Website

    The History of the Shubenacadie Canal