Give us the tools

remembrance day - photo of one of the murals in the bunkhouse at survey camp

A legacy of duty captured in wartime murals at U of T Engineering’s Gull Lake Camp 

Story originally appeared on Engineering News.

On February 9, 1941, as the Second World War raged, Winston Churchill closed one of his famous speeches with the words, “Give us the tools and we will finish the job.” Churchill was addressing the British public, but his words had a resounding impact on the engineering students at the University of Toronto.

At a time when many of their friends and classmates were leaving to enlist overseas, some U of T Engineering students made the difficult decision to finish their educations and gain the skills required to contribute to Canadian war effort as engineers.

In 1941, civil and mining Engineering students painted ‘GIVE US-‘…‘-THE TOOLS’, alongside their names, on the walls of U of T Engineering’s property at Gull Lake, commonly called Survey Camp.

remembrance day - photo of one of the murals in the bunkhouse at survey camp

Throughout the war years, murals at Survey Camp depicted headlines and battlefields, but also the valued engineering skills that they would contribute to the war effort. Engineers were needed to undertake all aspects of the allied effort; building barracks and reinforcing defense positions; making the calculations necessary for artillery accuracy; the extraction of coal, metals and minerals, which were needed for munitions production; repairing damaged machinery; and reconstructing demolished bridges. The 4T1 mural echoes U of T Engineering’s original mandate to serve the public interest, outlined in the ‘Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer.’

Countless pieces of artwork decorate the rafters and ceiling at Survey Camp, providing a window into the events and lives of engineering students from bygone eras. Today’s students still gaze up from their bunks to discover a different piece of Faculty history each time.  And every November 11, engineering students pay tribute to the duty and sacrifice of their war-era peers by designing and building an original monument on campus to commemorate their efforts.

Churchill concluded his speech, “We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.” Every November 11, engineering students take up those tools in remembrance.