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The making of an 'arcane' infrastructure immigrant practitioners and the origins of professional engineering regulation in Ontario.


In Canada, foreign-trained immigrant professionals often have difficulty securing the appropriate licenses required to practice in their profession of training. This obstacle has significant implications for the labour market integration of immigrants, forcing many individuals into low-wage and unstable 'survival' jobs (McDade 1988; Brouwer 1999; Mata 1999; MTCU 2002; Bauder 2006). In an interview with the New York Times, Canada's then federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Joe Volpe, described the professional regulation system as 'an arcane infrastructure ... that essentially mitigate[s] against the immediate integration of highly skilled immigrants' (Krauss 2005).

This article discusses the historical development of the institutions that regulate the engineering profession in Ontario and the other provinces of Canada. While political agitation in favour of the professionalization of engineering occurred at a national scale, professions are regulated at the provincial level in Canada's federal system. In this essay, we analyze the motives for professional regulation expressed at a national level, but concentrate on the passage of regulatory legislation in the province of Ontario. The discussion focuses on the period between the early 1900s, when arguments in favour of engineering professionalization intensified, and the late-1930s, by which point the profession was statutorily closed in most provincial jurisdictions, including Ontario. This period contains pivotal episodes in the development of professional engineering regulation in Canada. In the article, we analyse several engineering professional periodicals dating from the study period to understand the motivations behind the institutions and practices of professional licensing in Canada, which continue to disadvantage immigrant professionals today (see Boyd and Thomas 2002; Geddie 2002).

Our results indicate that perceived labour market competition from foreign engineers was directly linked to calls for exclusive legislation closing the profession. Geography performed an important role in the efforts of engineering societies to overcome the competitive threat posed by non-Canadian practitioners. Specifically, Canadian engineering societies argued that practicing engineering in Canada's geographical space and its physical environment involved unique challenges. Consequently, the competence of engineers from abroad was questioned due to their supposed lack of awareness and understanding of the environmental intricacies of practicing engineering in Canada. Because incompetent engineers produce unsafe and ineffective work, Canadian engineering societies justified their demands for closure on the basis of protecting the Canadian public from unqualified foreign practitioners.

Millard (1988) is one of the few sources discussing the political context in Canada in which legislation closing the engineering profession was passed. This article and Millard's work draw on a number of the same engineering periodical sources. However, to conduct our analysis we interpret these data using a framework based on the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu to understand how Canadian engineering society members used cultural and environmental criteria in an attempt to distinguish themselves from non-Canadian labour market competitors.

In the following section, we provide a brief history, of professional engineering organization in Canada leading up to the 1930s, and review the closing of the profession by provincial legislation. In the next section, we develop a conceptual framework of the cultural regulation of the engineering labour market. This framework draws on Pierre Bourdieu's concept of institutional cultural capital, which we expand to include the notion of habitat. Following a discussion of our method, we examine the different arguments presented in the professional debate leading up to closure and interpret their validity in relation to our conceptual framework.

A Brief History of Engineering Regulation in Canada

Confederation represents an important event in the history of professional societies in Canada. The British North America Act of 1867 gave provincial governments legislative responsibility for education (Department of Justice n.d., section 93). At this time, professional associations were considered educational bodies due to their origin as learned societies. As a result, the associations of professional engineers that were established after Confederation have been under provincial jurisdiction ever thereafter (Hamilton 2001).

Engineering special interest groups and technical societies were formally established in Great Britain in 1825 (the Institution of Civil Engineers) and the U.S. in 1869 (the American Society of Civil Engineers) (Hart 2001). In Canada, the first engineering educational institutions were founded in the mid-nineteenth century (Morris 1990). (1) These developments within and outside of Canada motivated a number of Canadian engineers to begin promoting the establishment of a national engineering interest group (Hart 2001). As a result, the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers (CSCE)2 was organized in Montreal and obtained its charter as a learned professional society in June of 1887 (Hart 1997). The CSCE immediately began to grow and by the outbreak of World War I consisted of eight chapters across the country with a total of over 3,000 members (EIC 1927). Over time, the engineering profession developed into a number of separate disciplines. With the intention of remaining a representative body of the engineering profession as a whole, the CSCE changed its name in 1918 to the Engineering Institute of Canada (EIC) to include mechanical and electrical engineers in addition to civil engineers, who represented by far the largest cohort of engineers at the time (Hart 2001).

After World War I, a post-war recession led to widespread unemployment that was exacerbated by the swift demobilization of many soldiers and servicemen (Knowles 2000). In addition, many large civil engineering projects--such as canals and the transcontinental railways--were completed prior to the war which reduced demand for civil engineers. During this period of declining demand, Canadian universities expanded their programs and graduated increasing numbers of engineers, many of them returned soldiers (Millard 1988; Morris 1990). In addition to these changing labour market conditions, high immigration levels before and after World War I brought many engineers to Canada, which contributed to uneasiness among Canadian engineers about competition from abroad.

Between 1910 and 1914, over 1.5 million immigrants arrived in Canada, the highest intake of migrants of any 5-year period in the country's history (Citizenship and Immigration Canada 2003). Although immigration levels dropped dramatically during World War I, the number of immigrant arrivals increased during the years immediately after the war. Immigration rose from 41,845 in 1918 to 107,698 in 1919 and 138,824 in 1920 (Citizenship and Immigration Canada 2003). This wave of immigrants included an influx of foreign-educated engineers, mainly from Great Britain and the U.S. (Millard 1988). During this era, prior to the closure of the engineering profession in Canada, engineering professional periodicals published articles identifying an ongoing discussion among engineering society members about the profession's status and the earnings of engineers. One prominent narrative in this discussion suggests that Canadian engineers' disappointing labour market outcomes were the product of competition from a large number of non-Canadian practitioners working in Canada. The perception of foreign-trained engineers as a threat to the livelihood of Canadian-educated engineers coincided with a period of rising Canadian nationalism (Knowles 2000).

Calls for greater protection of the employment prospects, salary levels, and professional interests of Canadian engineers, especially among the younger, less-prosperous members of the society, prompted the EIC to convene an Advisory Committee on Legislation in 1919. The purpose of this committee was to draft and propose a standardized licensing bill in all provincial legislatures, which would create provincial self-governing engineering regulatory associations (Professional Organizations Committee 1978). The political influence of these arguments and their proponents was significant: soon after the proposed licensing bills were submitted to the provincial governments, their elements were incorporated into provincial regulatory legislation. By mid-1920, every provincial legislature, except Ontario, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island, responded to increased political pressure by passing, in various forms, the licensing bills proposed by the EIC (Millard 1988). These provincial bills called for mandatory registration with a newly created provincial professional engineering association as a prerequisite of practice in the corresponding province.

In Ontario, the Professional Engineers Act was passed in the provincial legislature in 1922, creating the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario (APEO, later known as PEO), yet protests from Ontario's mining industry succeeded in weakening the Act prior to its passage (Professional Organizations Committee 1978). Under the terms of the Act passed in 1922, unlicensed individuals could continue to practice engineering in Ontario as long as they did not advertise themselves as a 'professional engineer' (Hamilton 2001). Canadian mining engineers, who had formed a separate professional association known as the Canadian Mining Institute (CMI) in 1898, opposed the prospect of being forced to join the EIC in order to practice (Millard 1988). Ontario's mine owners also felt the EIC-backed legislation would restrict their choice of employees and discourage foreign investment in Ontario's mineral sector because foreign technical staff would be barred from practicing in Ontario (Hamilton 2001). In addition, a number of universities in Ontario expressed concern that the bill would give the new regulatory body the ability to control university engineering education through its power to recognize degrees and control admission standards (Millard 1988). As a result of this opposition, it was not until 1937 before an amendment to the Professional Engineers Act effectively closed the profession in Ontario (Hamilton 2002).

The Cultural Regulation of the Engineering Labour Market

Prior to the statutory closure of the profession, the engineering labour market in Canada was unregulated. In this labour market, competition between practitioners undermined wages, working conditions and job security (Millard 1988). Canadian engineers may have pursued statutory closure of their profession to limit access to engineering jobs and thus reduce downward pressures on wages, working conditions, and job security. Furthermore, licensure may reflect an attempt by Canadian engineering societies to reproduce themselves as a professional class by drawing distinctions between themselves as legitimate engineers and outsiders as illegitimate practitioners (Bourdieu 1984; Bourdieu and Passeron 1990).

Examining cultural processes of distinction, Bourdieu (1984, 151) states that 'those aspiring to or holding a position may have an interest in defining it in such a way that it cannot be occupied by anyone other than the possessors of properties identical to their own'. Hoping to use restrictive licensing to preserve access to the engineering labour market for themselves, organized Canadian engineers may have sought to set licensing criteria that would include themselves but disqualify undesirable others from participating in the engineering labour market. These processes of inclusion and exclusion depend on the affirmation and valorization of some characteristics to identify the qualified professionals, and on the devaluation of other characteristics as the signifiers of incompetence (Hanlon 1998). Each profession has certain established norms and conventions of professional conduct that represent expectations of behaviour and practice. In addition to these codes of behaviour, Bourdieu (1984) suggests that many professions (he cites doctors, architects, and engineers as examples) maintain an underlying set of criteria that regulate access to each profession. These characteristics function as 'tacit requirements, such as age, sex, social, or ethnic origin, overtly or implicitly guiding co-option choices ... so that members of the corps who lack these traits are excluded or marginalized' (Bourdieu 1984, 103). Cultural processes of signification are thus important mechanisms regulating access to the engineering labour market. Below we review the concepts of institutional cultural capital and habitat as cultural mechanisms that facilitate cultural distinction and that enable us to interpret the arguments presented by Ontario's engineers in the debate leading up to the closure of their profession.

Our application of the notion of institutional cultural capital relates to Bourdieu's (1986) discussion of different forms of capital. Social, economic and cultural forms of capital are strategically produced and serve as mechanisms of distinction and social reproduction. Cultural capital can be further subdivided into three distinct states: the embodied state, which signifies physically entrenched dispositions and performances of social groups; the objectified state, which is associated with the production and consumption of symbolic objects; and the institutionalized state, which represents a measure of institutionally recognized cultural competence in the form of credentials and/or academic qualifications.

In the early twentieth century, membership in CSCE required either a minimum of 10 years of engineering work experience, or university-level training and apprenticeship followed by 5 years of work experience (CSCE 1905, section 3). These requirements represent the institutional cultural capital signifying competence to be included in CSCE membership. Yet, in the absence of licensing legislation, this institutional cultural capital was a relatively ineffective mechanism of distinction in the labour market because individuals could legally work as engineers regardless of their training. The members of EIC, who had invested in gaining engineering credentials and work experience, enjoyed relatively few advantages from acquiring these credentials. One way of valorizing these investments was to insist that academic credentials and work experience must become mandatory components of professional licensure.

In the period immediately prior to closure, EIC members were particularly concerned about labour market competition from engineers from Great Britain and the U.S. (Millard 1988). Rather than discrimination based on country of origin, we examine the thesis that institutional cultural capital was used to distinguish between Canadian and foreign practitioners. Research in Canada and Europe suggests that the contemporary non-recognition of foreign credentials and work experience is a strategy used to exclude immigrants from the professional labour market (Bauder 2003, 2005). Valorizing the institutional cultural capital obtained in Canada and devaluing foreign institutional cultural capital may already have served to solidify and reproduce the professional status of EIC members when the engineering profession was closed in the 1920s and 1930s.

Since climatic and environmental conditions in Canada differed from conditions in other countries, Canadian practitioners could argue that foreign-trained practitioners are unable to produce engineering works that suit Canada's terrain and its cold and variable climate. The concept of habitat enables us to link environmental conditions to the cultural regulation of labour markets. This concept is often applied in relation to Bourdieu's (1977, 2002) notion of habitus, describing the structural contexts of social practice. Bourdieu (2000) employs the term habitat to express the conflation or connection of social fields with physical space. However, unlike Bourdieu, we are not interested in the mere correspondence between physical space and social practice, but rather examine the role of habitat as a strategic concept of inclusion and exclusion. In particular, we apply habitat as a geographical concept that defines a certain environmental and physical context, enabling a person to claim particular knowledge and expertise and therefore suitability for professional practice. This application of the term habitat is consistent with recent developments in geography to see 'nature' not as a universal ontology bur as a social construct (see Gerber 1997; Proctor 1998; Demeritt 2002). In our interpretation of habitat, however, this view of nature is extended to include social processes of distinction.

Canadian engineering societies associated unfamiliarity with Canada's habitat with technical deficiency. On this basis, the foreign credentials and work experience of non-Canadian engineers were devalued, disqualifying them from practicing in Canada. Canadian-educated engineers, on the other hand, can be represented as inherently familiar with the local environment and therefore competent to practice. If our thesis is substantiated, habitat is employed as an environmental justification for distinguishing between qualified Canadian practitioners and unqualified foreign engineers. In this case, we would expect to uncover a narrative in our analysis which suggests that non-Canadian engineers lack the technical know-how as well as the habitual relationship with Canada's physical environment needed to successfully practice engineering in Canada.


Our survey of the professional engineering literature covered the period from 1900 to 1937, as the campaign to the statutory closure of the profession unfolded. Most Canadian provinces closed the profession in the 1920s followed by Ontario in 1937. For this period, we gathered articles, editorials and letters to the editor published in Canadian engineering professional periodicals: the Journal of the Engineering Institute of Canada (JEIC), published monthly, The Contract Record & Engineering Review (CRER) and The Canadian Engineer (CE), both weekly publications. We attempted to obtain a hundred percent sample of relevant articles by examining all issues of these periodicals published during the study period. Table 1 describes the final sample of articles included in the discourse analysis. We also collected articles discussing historical developments during the study period from the contemporary engineering periodicals Canadian Civil Engineer and Engineering Dimensions. Initially, we read the periodicals to identify the articles that discussed closure and/or the impact of foreign engineers on the profession. The articles suitable for our analysis were then photocopied, organized and coded. We supplemented this database with information from books, government documents and other publications discussing professional engineering regulation published during the same time period.

A content analysis of these documents was performed with the objective of extracting narratives that reveal the opinions and capture ideological underpinnings of the engineering society and its members during the study period. Although various techniques to conduct discourse analysis exist, we focused on key ideas and attitudes expressed by authors and editors (Fairclough 1992; Taylor 2001). We did not attempt to quantify the use of particular words or concepts. We also realize that the discourses circulating through professional periodicals may be complex and multi-faceted and we did not expect to uncover one singular opinion that represents the entire engineering profession. Nevertheless, we anticipated uncovering some narratives that are dominant in that they were eventually translated into legislation, as opposed to subordinate narratives that had few effects on law and policy makers. In addition, we expected to unveil narratives that are used strategically to advocate for or against the exclusion of foreign-trained engineers. Furthermore, we realize that engineering societies are socially regulated institutions that operate within greater social, political, and economic contexts (see Granovetter 1985; Mountz 2003). Therefore, we interpreted the narratives that we uncovered in the data in light of the wider social, economic, and political context of the study period.

Our strategy of analysis and theory development was based upon Strauss's (1990) grounded theory approach. Under this approach, data collection, analysis, and interpretation are performed concurrently to facilitate interpretation and theory building. We modified this approach in that we articulated a set of expected outcomes based on the existing literature before we began collecting and analysing the data. Thereafter we treated data analysis and theory development as recursive processes not separate from each other.

These recursive processes involved contextualizing the narratives expressed in the sampled articles and assessing their importance in light of professional closure. The narratives we identified presented various arguments and opinions by individuals and institutions with different interests. As we mentioned above, in 1919, the EIC prepared standardized licensing bills intended to regulate the engineering profession in each province. Lawmakers in most provinces passed these bills, effectively closing the engineering profession in Canada. We interpret as dominant those narratives that were translated into provincial legislation. However, engineering society members did not unanimously consider licensing legislation to be the appropriate solution to their professional concerns. Arguments against the legislative closure of the profession also appear in the articles and are discussed below. Because opponents of licensing did not achieve their aims, we consider the narrative associated with these arguments to be subordinate.

The Post-World War I Engineering Labour Market

Prior to 1920, many members of the EIC believed that the lack of restrictions on engineering practice produced an oversupply of labour, resulting in poor employment prospects and declining salaries, particularly for younger members of the profession. This narrative is reflected in several articles in the engineering press that express anxiety over the salaries of university-educated engineers in relation to the earnings of skilled labourers with lower educational qualifications. The following excerpt, drawn from a letter written by an anonymous engineer, exemplifies this concern:
   Glaring examples of downright injustice have come
   to light, such as a university graduate trying to
   support a wife at a salary of $1200 per annum
   by doing technical work whilst the pipe fitters, riveters,
   etc., were making $1800 at skilled labour
   (Sapper 1919, 226).

This narrative of oversupply persists throughout the study period. For example, a decade earlier, in 1909, an engineer commented on the labour market conditions for engineering society members in a similar manner:
   We are told that in Canada there are ten or twelve
   colleges grinding out young engineers, presumably
   for employment in this country. In addition to this
   we have a number of young men entering the work
   without technical training; and also an influx of
   foreign engineers, draughtsmen, etc. Decidedly we
   are suffering from over-production.... according to
   the law of supply and demand it means lower
   salaries, which have for some time been declining
   (Hagarty 1909, 468).

For many Canadian engineers, oversupply and the resultant poor salaries highlighted the need for professional licensing. Articles often make comparisons between the engineering profession and the legal and medical professions that had secured licensing legislation in Canada at an earlier time. In Ontario, the Law Society of Upper Canada was founded as a self-governing body in 1797 (Law Society of Upper Canada n.d.) and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Upper Canada was incorporated by a provincial act passed in 1839 to license medical practitioners (Canniff 1980). Engineers believed that lawyers and doctors enjoyed much higher status and salaries because their professions had secured licensing legislation. The following quote expresses this belief:
   It is true that there is no actual "union" of doctors
   or of lawyers, but it is none the less indisputable
   that there exists in each of these professions a
   very strict latent union. There is a well-maintained,
   if unwritten, etiquette ... whereby certain fees are
   charged for certain services. The wage they demand
   and receive serves to maintain the dignity of their
   professions.... But ... technical men have been willing
   and anxious to underbid one another in the
   matter of fees or salary, and the present low status
   of these professionals is the direct outcome
   of this procedure ... it can be easily avoided with
   some form of organization (Cole 1918, 33-34; original

Many EIC members subsequently suggested that enforcing restrictive access to the engineering profession would alleviate the problems associated with the overcrowded labour market. In a 1932 letter to the editor of the Journal of the Engineering Institute of Canada an engineer explains:
   The welfare of the engineering profession is the
   welfare of the individual, whose welfare in turn depends
   on his ability to find profitable employment
   in his profession, which is increasingly menaced by
   its overpopulation. Should not we then, as a body
   of engineers, strive to regulate the numbers of our
   profession and to make it more exclusive? ... In my
   opinion, we as a body, should make it our business
   to see that engineers are rewarded suitably for
   their labours, we should not allow our profession
   to be degraded by mass commercialization of its
   members. The supply of trained engineers should
   be made to equal the demand (Bartlett 1932, 235).

Other EIC members linked the low status of their profession, eroding wages and poor employment prospects to 'unfair' competition from unqualified practitioners (Durley 1934, 370). To limit this unfair competition, the editors of one periodical advocated for high educational standards of qualification in the proposed legislation, effectively excluding less-educated engineers from practicing:
   Another reason [why the profession suffers from
   low standing in the public eye] is the fact that anyone
   who can screw two lengths of pipe together,
   or erect a flag-pole, thinks that he is entitled to
   call himself an engineer--and does. An enlightened
   public opinion on this subject is much to be desired.
   The standards required before the title of
   engineer is conferred should be as high as the
   standards required for an M.D. after a name (Keith
   1922, 511).

Under this scenario, proper qualification would be based upon EIC membership criteria, including university credentials and a period of intensive work experience. By gaining the legal right to enforce standards of qualification, the EIC hoped to match Canadian legal societies and medical colleges in terms of their control over labour supply.

The motivation to regulate the labour market by closing the profession became particularly evident in Ontario after exclusive licensing legislation failed to pass in 1922. Until 1937, members of the EIC's Ontario chapters were blocked from practicing in other provinces that had introduced licensing legislation in the 1920s, while engineers from other provinces and from the U.S. could practice in Ontario. To protect their market, the EIC members from Ontario demanded provincial licensing legislation that would close their own labour market:
   The Province of Ontario is without proper legislation
   for the protection of its qualified engineers,
   at the present time, while other provinces
   and the United States has such protection. One result
   of this was that while Ontario engineers were
   barred from practicing outside the province, engineers
   from outside could at the present, practice
   in Ontario without restriction and in competition
   with its own engineers (London Branch of the EIC
   1932, 46).

Rationalization of the public interest

A second narrative represented in the discourse in favour of licensing implies that control over labour supply serves the public interest. After World War I, engineers began to conceptualize their professional interests as interlinked with public safety. The engineering professional associations strategically framed their calls for restrictive licensing as a necessary measure to protect the public interest, imitating a similar strategy successfully used by the legal and medical professions to justify the closing of those professions. As one commentator explains: 'The closely united organizations possessed by lawyers and doctors, wherein they receive special privileges, are justified on one basis only, and that is the protection of the public.... The same thing applies to the engineering profession' (Peters 1918, 220). If engineers could exclude low-qualified individuals from practicing based on public safety concerns, then the supply side of the engineering labour market would also tighten, eventually preserving the jobs and increasing the salaries of the remaining engineers.

As a result of the strategic use of the idea of public safety for the collective self-interest of engineers, the boundary between the two narratives became blurred. A regulated, self-governing engineering profession would serve the dual purpose of protecting the safety of the public as well as the professional and financial interests of engineers:
   It is essential that a profession govern itself, and it
   is effective organization for this purpose which really
   confers professional status.... It has long been
   realized that engineers should themselves take
   steps to protect the public against incompetent or
   non-ethical practices, and that such protection necessarily
   involves to a large extent the protection of
   the members of the profession themselves (Durley
   1931, 121).

The following quote further exemplifies this breakdown of the boundary between narratives of economic self-interest on the part of EIC members and public safety:
   The main objects of this legislation are to improve
   the status of the engineer in the community and
   thereby obtain greater recognition and consequent
   better remuneration for services rendered, and to
   afford protection to the public by defining what a
   Professional Engineer is and who shall be entitled
   to act as such (Kirby 1920, 341).

Politically, securing the status of the profession and protecting its economic prosperity required the engineering society to link the interests of its members with those of the public:
   The Association of Professional Engineers of
   Ontario ... was solely formed for the protection of
   its members from unqualified and unscrupulous
   competition and by the same light affording protection
   to the public from the dangers of employing
   unqualified practitioners (London Branch of the
   EIC 1932, 46).

The evidence of our analysis suggests that engineering societies justified the benefits their members would enjoy with closure by strategically assuming special responsibilities for protecting the public interest.

The exclusion of foreign engineers

In the engineering professional press, competition in the tightening engineering labour market was often attributed to the presence of foreign engineers in Canada, prior to and after World War I in particular when immigration levels were high. A Canadian engineering periodical characterized foreign engineers as 'The Foreign Invasion' (James 1910). During this time, numerous appeals to give preference to engineers born and trained in Canada surfaced in the professional literature. For example:
   It is necessary for our own countrymen to stand
   together in strong nationalism ... and say emphatically
   that our first duty is to our own people, and
   that our own people can, if our authorities will patriotically
   support them, find within the ranks of
   the Canadian engineers the expert professional advice
   that Canada needs for her present and future
   development (Conway 1915, 109).

After World War I, a number of editorials suggested that the country was producing enough of its own engineering talent to satisfy domestic demand (Young 1918). Under these circumstances, an editor writes, Canadian engineers deserved priority in the labour market over foreigners:
   At present the prospects in Canada for the employment
   of engineers from other countries are
   not favourable, since the supply of our own men
   is, just now, more than adequate to meet the demand....
   Employers naturally take the very reasonable
   view that in such opportunities as do occur,
   preference should be given to our own men
   (Durley 1930, 523).

Despite these blatant calls for exclusion based on national origin, to many engineers, institutional cultural capital in the form of educational qualifications seemed to be a more subtle solution to limit the participation of foreign engineers. Since membership in the EIC already depended on possessing certain academic credentials and practical training, institutional cultural capital could be used in a similar manner to distinguish Canadian-educated engineers from their foreign-trained counterparts. Consequently, engineers called for licensing legislation that valorizes Canadian credentials:
   At the annual meeting of the Association of Professional
   Engineers of Ontario ... it was unanimously
   decided to introduce a bill at the next session of
   the Ontario Legislature with the object of restricting
   the practice of engineering to properly qualified
   persons.... The proposed legislation ... would
   prevent foreigners without qualifications from coming
   into the province and securing positions to
   the detriment of graduates of our own Universities
   (Bartlett 1932, 235).

Competition from non-Canadian engineers, which came especially from Great Britain and the U.S. (Millard 1988), was particularly intolerable for EIC members because the quality of engineering work produced by Canadian-educated practitioners was seen as at least equal to that produced by engineers educated abroad. The editor of a periodical writes:
   There is certainly no objection to men from other
   countries coming to Canada and taking up their
   abode here.... On the other hand, it will be found
   that there is strong objection to foreign consulting
   engineers doing work in this country which can
   be done equally well by our own engineers (Hogg
   1912, 269).

Provincial licensing legislation should therefore valorize Canadian institutional cultural capital and simultaneously devalue foreign credentials.


The valorization of institutionalized cultural capital was discursively linked to the perceived uniqueness of Canada's environment. According to the engineering professional press the successful practice of engineering in Canada has always depended on understanding how engineering works are affected by Canadian climatic conditions. EIC suggested:
   For the first engineers in Canada many of their
   projects had to be carried out with little or no
   help from experience in older [European] countries
   where entirely different conditions prevailed. They
   had to blaze their trails, in some cases literally as
   well as figuratively (Engineering Institute of Canada
   1937, 275).

Related to these concerns, a 1910 editorial in The Canadian Engineer argued that the lack of local knowledge and accountability among foreign engineers contributed to the greatest engineering failures in the country:
   The outstanding blunders in Canadian engineering
   work, whether in railway location, bridge building,
   water supply undertaking, or in the matter of architectural
   design, can be laid at the door of the man
   brought into Canada to report and then depart, to
   be followed by his fee (James 1910, 495).

During the debate preceding closure, EIC members placed great emphasis on the argument that foreign practitioners lacked the knowledge to practice engineering in the harsh Canadian climate. Restrictive legislation excluding foreign-trained professionals was justified on the basis that many foreign engineers did not possess this particular set of knowledge. They were thus considered unfit to join the EIC and should not be allowed to practice engineering in Canada:
   One of the main objections to the employment of
   foreign engineers is the fact that a knowledge of
   local climatic conditions is essential to the success
   of engineering work.... no man can do full justice
   to the work unless he is thoroughly acquainted and
   accustomed to the conditions (Hogg 1912, 269).

In this case, habitat is used as a rationale for exclusion. The environmental knowledge necessary for practicing in Canada can only come from experience working as an engineer in this country. EIC members reasoned that non-Canadian engineers, by definition, lacked the necessary local environmental knowledge that Canadian engineers possessed. On this basis, foreign engineers without Canadian work experience could be characterized as unqualified and the work they performed as a potential threat to public safety.

In a letter to the editor of The Contract Record & Engineering Review, a reader stressed that climatic conditions in Canada limit the pool of people who could perform engineering work. While the reader acknowledged that 'there is no nationality in engineering science', he also explained:
   Water flows according to the same laws in all countries.
   But there are differences in the application
   of engineering science according to the stage of
   development of a country and its topography and
   climate.... An engineer brought up on work having
   a high class finish, as in Europe, or near the
   eastern coast of America, would not be the best
   engineer for pioneer work in the [Canadian] west
   (Hering 1913, 44-45).

This reader does not feel that engineers should be excluded from the profession in Canada simply on the basis of national origin. In fact, he 'believe[s] in the engagement of those professional men who have had the experience and knowledge required, whether they be found in another city or in another country' (Hering 1913, 45). However, the appropriate knowledge necessary for conducting engineering work in Canada could only be acquired in Canada, effectively excluding many newly arriving engineers from foreign countries.

EIC members presented the challenges of performing engineering work in Canada's climate as a justification for excluding foreign engineers from practicing in Canada. If high standards of engineering practice were to be maintained and the Canadian public was to be protected from deficient engineering works, then licensing standards needed to acknowledge the context-particular nature of Canadian credentials and work experience.

Narrative opposing licensing

Licensing legislation was not unanimously supported among engineers in Canada. The most prominent anti-licensing argument that appeared in the professional periodicals revolved around the perception of licensing as a means of forming a trade union of engineers. In the early part of the twentieth century, the labour movement was establishing itself in Canada in many trades and some engineers hoped that organizing engineering as a union would lead to similar benefits in terms of higher salaries, better working conditions, and less competition between practitioners:
   A craft, a trade or a profession; they are all
   the same general thing, subject to the same general
   natural and economic laws.... Should [we] be
   satisfied to continue as at present despite the
   rapidly declining rate of exchange for "professional"
   engineering services with those of the
   sometimes less dignified bur now relatively better
   paid "trade" or "craft" services of the bricklayers
   and plumbers? ... I think we can learn much from
   our friends, the bricklayers and plumbers, whom
   necessity has driven as hard in past years as it
   now drives some of the engineering rank and file
   (Mullen 1920, 203).

However, other engineers felt that trade unionism represented a significant threat to the status of engineering as a profession. To this group, unionization would 'prostitute an ancient, honourable, and respected calling to the level of a trade' (Gillespie 1920, 283). In a letter to the editor of the Journal of the Engineering Institute of Canada, R. W. MacIntyre (1919) discusses how legislation designed to close the engineering profession could undermine the status of the profession in the eyes of the public:
   I am absolutely opposed to any "closed shop" legislation
   ... such legislation embraces the worst features
   of Trades Unionism and stands for a vicious
   principle, which is bound to react on the dignity
   and standing of our profession in Canada.... The
   spirit of the present age is decidedly against special
   privilege for any class of men...If an engineer
   cannot stand on his own feet in competition with
   brother members of the profession, we certainly
   have no right to bolster him up by Act of Parliament
   and drag our profession downhill by so doing
   (MacIntyre 1919, 226-227).

According to this perspective, legislation would not guarantee competence of practitioners, but could artificially change the competitive position of licensed engineers in the labour market.

In response to these arguments, calls for licensing legislation shifted away from any association with unionization and were instead attached to the idea of professionalization as a way of achieving the EIC's goals. While professionalization may accomplish the same salary outcomes as unionization, unionized engineers would not be selfregulated and could not justify their self-interest in terms of protecting the public interest. In this respect, professionalization appeared to be the preferable course of action:
   While neither the unionizing nor the professionalizing
   of engineers will ensure work where work is
   not to be had, nor fees where consulting services
   are not required, I believe that the latter will secure
   everything that the former will obtain, and
   with infinitely greater credit to engineers as a class
   (Gillespie 1920, 283).

In this sense, establishing engineers as a professional class in Canada through legislation presented the most appropriate method of accomplishing the EIC's goals of reducing competition, increasing salaries and boosting the status of engineering in Canada. The initial arguments against 'closed shop' licensing and 'trades unionism', did not succeed in preventing the closure of the profession.


This study examines the motivations of CSCE and EIC members to organize engineering as a self-regulating profession in Canada over the decades leading up to closure by legislative arrangement. Recent engineering professional publications suggest that the main justification of instituting licensure in Canada was as a response to 'countless examples of men calling themselves engineers who had designed bridges and buildings that failed' (Piper 1997, 1) in which 'it was evident that ... there was inadequate supervision, faulty design, and wastage of materials' (Task Force on the Future of Engineering 1988, 22). However, in our analysis we found that protecting the public from failing infrastructure was not the sole motive for regulating the engineering profession in Canada. Concerns about labour market pressures, poor salary levels, low professional status, and competition from foreign and immigrant engineers constitute a dominant narrative in the literature sustaining calls for engineering professionalization in Canada. Closure of the profession was intended to address these concerns but was legitimated on the basis of safeguarding public safety.

Our evidence suggests that the engineering regulation system was established to exclude unwanted competitors from practicing in Canada. The first group to be excluded was practitioners who were not EIC members. The EIC sought a formal licensing system that would provide access to the engineering profession in Canada to its own members. By valorizing the institutional cultural capital all members possessed, EIC members were included while practitioners who did not fulfill the EIC membership criteria could be excluded from the profession. Acquiring legislative recognition of distinct, self-governing engineering regulatory bodies permitted the membership of these bodies to protect their own interests by enforcing exclusive qualification standards that their members already possessed. The institution thus managed not only to obtain a monopoly for its members to practice engineering, but also to secure the reproduction of the institution.

The second group to be excluded consisted of foreigners and immigrants. By excluding foreign-trained engineers, the economic and professional interests of Canadian-educated engineers could be protected. Geography, in the form of the climatic context and physical environment of Canada, played a vital role in fashioning the arguments intended to cast doubt on the competence of non-Canadian practitioners. For example, engineers who want to practice in Canada are supposed to understand how snow loads or permafrost affect buildings, or how temperature variations that occur in Canada influence product design considerations. Rather than justifying the exclusion of non-Canadians based on their national origin, exclusion was legitimated on the basis that non-Canadian engineers with little Canadian work experience lacked the intimate knowledge of the unique Canadian climate and physical environment required to competently perform engineering work in Canada. Represented as unqualified workers whose work was a potential threat to public safety, foreign engineers could be excluded from the EIC.

The findings of our study and our interpretation of the notion of habitat enable us to highlight a geographical dimension of processes of distinction as they are theorized by Bourdieu. The idea of protecting the public from engineers, who cannot demonstrate a close connection to the physical space of Canada, was deployed as a mechanism of distinction and subsequently as a strategy of excluding foreign competition. In our study, this geographical mechanism of distinction is an important element in the working of institutional cultural capital. Processes of distinction associated with habitat produced persisting legal structures of professional self-regulation, which congealed as licensing legislation in the 1920s and 1930s and later reconstituted as provincial regulatory bodies. Today, these structures comprise an 'arcane infrastructure', which continues to adversely influence the labour market integration of immigrants to Canada.


The research was supported by a SRC grant from the Ontario provincial government. We thank Alice Hovorka, Margaret Walton-Roberts, Gurmeet Bambrah, Roger Hayter and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.


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(1) The first civil engineering program in Canada was offered at King's College in Fredricton, New Brunswick in 1854 (Morris 1990).

(2) At this time, the definition of civil engineering was less strict than it is today. Typically. the terra civil engineering was applied to all engineering that did not serve a military function (EIC 1937).


Department of Geography, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1 (e-mail:


Department of Geography, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1 (e-mail:
Table 1

Number of pieces included in the historical discourse
analysis, by source

Periodical                                       No. of articles

Journal of the Engineering Institute of Canada         29
The Canadian Engineer                                   7
The Contract Record & Engineering Review               10
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Author:Girard, Erik; Bauder, Harald
Publication:The Canadian Geographer
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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