by Dr. M.C. Ircha, P.Eng., FCSCE
Immediate Past President of CSCE
Professor of Civil Engineering
Assistant Vice-President (Academic)
University of New Brunswick Fredericton, NB, (Canada)

Evolution of CSCE

Canada is a federal state - one in which the country’s constitutional powers and authority are divided between the federal government and ten provincial and two territorial governments. This division of powers has affected the development of Canadian engineering organisations. Licensing and certification of professional engineers comes under the jurisdiction of provincial or territorial governments.

In 1887, pre-eminent civil engineers such as Thomas Keefer and Casimir Gzovski established the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers as the first engineering organisation in the country. At that time, civil Engineering was simply defined as non-military engineering and encompassed all of the different disciplines of engineering that we recognise today. The initial CSCE was modelled after the American Society of Civil Engineers that had been established earlier in the 19th century. The early CSCE focused on sponsoring national conferences to discuss major projects and civil engineering innovations. In the words of CSCE’s first President, Thomas Keefer, the CSCE is

"a great army of Civil Engineers with different branches of service, but all working together for the same end - ‘the directing [of] the great powers in nature for the use and convenience of man" (President’s Address, 1888).

Canada grew rapidly in the early 20th century as immigration to the country from Europe reached epic proportions. A rapid population growth, concentrated in urban areas, led to a parallel rise in the demand for all manner of engineering services. As time progressed, it became apparent that more formal steps were needed to protect the public from unscrupulous purveyors of engineering services by ensuring that those who called themselves engineers actually possessed the education and experience to validate their claims. Since Canada’s Constitution provides the provinces with the authority to regulate education and labour, the certification of professional engineers rested with the provincial government. Following the First World War, most provinces established associations of professional engineers under the statutory authority of special acts passed by their legislatures. These provincial and territorial associations (such as the Association of Professional Engineers of New Brunswick) continue to certify and licence professional engineers and firms practising within the province’s territorial jurisdiction.

Given Canada’s geographic extent, it became apparent that the provincial associations of professional engineers needed a national presence. This led to the formation of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers (CCPE) representing all ten provincial and two territorial associations. The CCPE provides a forum for rationalising the development of engineering practice across the country. One of CCPE’s major initiatives is the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board which periodically reviews each of the engineering programs offered by Canadian universities to ensure that approved national standards of education and training are being met. In recent years, the CCPE has been active in seeking reciprocal privileges for Canadian engineers working in the U.S. and Mexico under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In addition, the CCPE has been actively involved with the provincial associations of professional engineers to develop programs to ensure the continued competence of their practising members (requiring evidence of continuing education activities). Given the nature of the country’s technical learned societies (including the CSCE) to promote professional development and continuing education, the CCPE’s continued competence programs will create further pressure on the learned societies to improve their services to all engineers.

In terms of the evolution of technical learned societies, by 1918, it had become clear that non-military engineering had expanded into a wider variety of specific engineering disciplines of which civil engineering was merely one component. To adequately represent these emerging engineering disciplines, the CSCE changed its name to the Engineering Institute of Canada (EIC).

During the 20th century, the various engineering disciplines in Canada continued to flourish and grow. By the early 1970’s, the increased specialisation of engineering into specific disciplines prompted the EIC to become a federation of learned engineering societies. The Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering was the first separate incorporated technical society. They were followed by the Canadian Geotechnical Society and the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering in June 1972. These separate technical learned societies remained as constituent members of the EIC. The national EIC serves as a co-ordinating body for the various constituent societies. At its 1997 annual conference in Sherbrooke, Quebec, The CSCE celebrated its 25th anniversary as a reconstituted society within the EIC and the 110th anniversary of its founding as the CSCE.

Today’s CSCE

The Canadian Society for Civil Engineering is a learned society intended to develop and maintain high standards of civil engineering practice in Canada and to enhance the public image of the civil engineering profession. This objective is met by encouraging the exchange and collection of knowledge among its members in the promotion of civil engineering thorough research and study and co-operating with other technical societies, both in Canada and internationally.

The CSCE is a national technical, learned society which is comprised of 22 local sections in various communities across the country. These sections coupled with 28 student chapters at universities across the country represent the more than four thousand members of the Society. CSCE'’s governance structure includes a national board of directors drawn from the sections and other national bodies involved in the Society. The national activities of CSCE are divided into three major categories: Technical Activities, Professional Activities, and General Administration.

The Technical Activities Committee (TAC) consolidates the technical discipline related functions of the CSCE. A wide range of technical divisions constitute the TAC, including: cold regions engineering, computer applications, construction, engineering mechanics, environmental engineering, hydrotechnical, structural and transportation. The primary thrust of these technical division is to generate and sponsor conferences, workshops, research and publications in their specific disciplines. Each technical division draws its members from various section form all parts of the country. TAC is also involved in developing the CSCE’s annual conference and accompanying speciality conferences. In addition, the TAC sponsors the publication of CSCE’s internationally recognised research journal, The Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering. One of the major features of the TAC is their sponsorship of two to three annual National Lecture Tours provided by prominent Canadian civil engineers speaking on major projects and issues of relevance to members and others across the country.

The Professional Activities committee (PAC) is the CSCE’s most recent initiative. The creation of the PAC reflected a growing recognition that while CSCE and TAC seemed to serve the needs of the academic engineering community, there was a requirement to focus on the practising members of the Society. Hence PAC’s objective is to enhance the Society’s services to practising civil engineers. The PAC has launched an extensive continuing education and professional development program aimed at assisting the provincial association of professional engineers to meet their requirements for the continued competence of their members. In addition, the PAC has been actively involved in promoting a broadly-based membership campaign and developing other revenue generating initiatives.

The General Administration Committee (GAC) deals with the other administrative and general activities of the Society including: international affairs (including the Society’s activities in various countries on behalf of the Canadian International Development Agency), budget and finance, publications (the Society’s monthly newsletter and general information report, the Canadian Civil Engineer), history, honours and fellowships, student affairs, and nominations.

The CSCE has been active in assisting other international technical societies. In some countries, the Society’s international efforts have been supported by the federal government’s Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) while in other nations, the CSCE has entered into mutual agreements of co-operation with relevant civil engineering societies. The CSCE has successfully assisted the Jamaican civil engineers to establish a program of accreditation for engineers and for schools of engineering. The model developed in the Jamaican project is being considered for adoption in other Caribbean countries, notably Trinidad and Tobago. CIDA also supports CSCE’s efforts to assist civil engineers in China, Pakistan and India to promote sustainable development and other matters of mutual interest. CIDA has also sponsored exchanges of civil engineers to and from specific countries and provided support for youth initiatives to enable younger Canadian civil engineers to practise in developing countries.

The CSCE has entered into mutual agreements of co-operation with a wide range of countries throughout the world including: ASCE, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Brazil, and in Europe with ICE in Britain, France, Hungary, and Poland. The Society’s most recent agreements of co-operation have been with the Philippines and South Africa. These mutual co-operation agreements normally involve support and assistance to visiting civil engineers from one nation to the other including discounts on attending national conferences, receiving publications and so forth.

The overall governance of the CSCE is provided by the board of directors. The board members include regional representatives (these directors represent local sections within five regions across the country - Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Prairies and the West), the chairs and vice-chairs of TAC, PAC and GAC, the Senior Vice-President (serving as President-elect), President and Past President. The CSCE has a national headquarters located in Montreal staffed by five persons and led by a full-time Director of Administration.

Benefits of CSCE Membership

In the Canadian context, practising civil engineering requires a mandatory licence provided by membership in the provincial association of professional engineers. On the other hand, membership in a technical learned society such as the CSCE is voluntary - a recognition that continued professional development is important to individual civil engineers.

The benefits of actively participating in a technical learned society such as the CSCE are many. These benefits include: the ability to network actively with peers (at annual conferences and local section workshops), receiving timely and relevant publications (such as the Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering and the Canadian Civil Engineer), ensuring personal self-development through the Society’s continuing education activities, participating in the CSCE’s annual conference and parallel speciality conferences, meeting and discoursing with prominent Canadian civil engineers during the National Lecture Tours, and becoming involved in the CSCE’s various international activities.

In conclusion, there are many benefits in being actively involved with a technical learned society such as the CSCE. The Canadian model of establishing national technical learned societies to support the professional development and continued competency efforts of the provincial associations of professional engineers provides a sensible solution to the many difficulties involved in serving the various needs of civil engineers practising across this large nation.

[Anyone interested in more detail about the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering should check the home page located at]

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