Terri-Jane Yuzda

The Alaska Highway began its life as a military engineering project. -Photo Courtesy Canadian Military Engineers

Engineering's Military Roots Celebrated in Centennial Year



APEGGA's engineers hear regularly of the major role their professions play in improving standards of living in Canada and abroad. Now about 7,500 professional cousins from coast to coast are giving them the chance to learn more about a similar and equally important role, this one played by the Canadian Military Engineers.

CME members, who celebrate their centennial with events across the country this year, tell an interesting story about the development of Canada, says Lt.-Col. (Ret.) Ralph Gienow. He's chairing the northern Alberta steering committee for the centennial, dubbed CME 2003.

Military engineering founded the profession, he points out. That bred the term civilian engineering, and the grammatical link carries on in the discipline now known as civil engineering.

The first to leave their mark on Canada were Great Britain's military engineers, with large developmental work such as the Rideau Canal. But there was much more to come. The Alaska Highway began its life as a military engineering project, and so did airports in the major cities across Canada.

Northern communities owe much to military engineers. "Many of the communities in Northern Canada wouldn't survive if it hadn't been for the Canadian Military Engineers," says Mr. Gienow. "The only communications many of them have are their airfields, which were almost entirely built by military engineers, right across the north."

A history of infrastructure work isn't all that CME has to celebrate. Capt. Barb Honig, chair of the CME 2003 steering committee for Southern Alberta, points to geomatics as a current area of research and development. "Our people are very much integrated into the worldwide attempt to 3-D map the world. We're actually quite progressive in that area." And Canadian Forces Base Suffield is a leader in mine detection research, developing a safer system using new technology, says Capt. Honig.

In conjunction with Zenon Environmental Systems Inc., Canada's military engineers developed the Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit, which removes contaminants to produce the highest quality water possible short of distillation. The system has been used in conflict areas throughout the world, but also at home - in Manitoba during the Red River flood of 1997, for example.

The cornerstone of CME 2003 is a legacy program called Bridges for Canada, a contribution to the Trans Canada Trail. Since 1999 military engineers in every province and territory have been building these bridges in cooperation with local communities. The engineers have added at least 40 bridges to the trail so far, in a program set to wrap up next year.

Community work is common among CME members, says Capt. Honig. Many units, particularly reserve units in small towns, involve themselves in local projects. Calgary members recently built a footbridge in Fish Creek Provincial Park.

Capt. Honig - who plans to seek APEGGA registration as a P.Eng. - says the military develops leadership skills. "This is something that maybe engineers don't always get when they work in a strictly technical environment," she says.

Mr. Gienow, who was a P.Eng. for part of his career, says the military was good to him. He retired from service in 1983, after a career that included commanding a combat engineering regiment in Germany and peacekeeping tours in the Middle East after the 1973 war.

"I think your members will be pleasantly surprised at the technology that military engineers use. A lot of civilian engineers think we're just a bunch of army guys driving around in amoured vehicles. But we use the same technology that civilian engineers use. We do the same things except we do them under wartime conditions.

"The difference is you're wearing a uniform and you do a lot more travelling. You see interesting places, although there is also danger, depending what military you're in. Pay wise, it's equivalent to any other kind of engineering. It's a lifestyle."

Capt. Honig urges members to take in centennial events in their area. "They're generally a good time — because military engineers are a lot of fun," she quips.


April to October, at Museum of Regiments, City Hall, Calgary International Airport

Centennial Celebrations
Golf Tournament and more
April 25-27

Freedom of City Parade
April 26
With King's Own Calgary Regiment

Open House
April 27
FES Unit
Northeast Armouries

Stampede Parade Float
July 4

Stampede Midway
Bridge Building Competition
July 4-14


Edmonton International Airport, City Hall
In place now

Military Engineering Showcases
At one each of
Edmonton Oilers, Edmonton Eskimos and Edmonton Trappers home games

100th Birthday Celebration
Series of events welcoming CME members and families from across Western Canada
May 28-June 1

Kondike Days
Raft race, parade and other partcipation
July 17 to 26

Freedom of City Parade
Honouring 1 Combat Engineer Regiment
Oct. 18


Various Events
Display, parade, golf tournament, family day
June 24-27

Christmas Dinner,
Time Capsule Ceremony
Dec. 6


Ralph Gienow
(780) 487-2070

Capt. Barb Honig
(403) 410-2320, ext. 3825


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