Concrete Canoes Coming to McGill

This spring, McGill University has the distinction of hosting the alliteratively-named Canadian National Concrete Canoe Competition (CNCCC). This prestigious annual event brings together students from all over the country, from civil engineers in training to those simply interested in concrete as a building material. From May 13-15, these competitors will converge on Montreal to put their teamwork, project management, and practical engineering skills to the test in a unique and creative way: building and racing their own canoes made of concrete.

Starting in 1994, the CNCCC has served as a competition analogous to the one organized by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), although neither is strictly limited to teams from their respective countries. While the ASCE took the initiative to officially launch the competition for the first time in 1988, concrete canoe competitions in the United States have existed since the late 1960s. In Canada, the annual competition was officially launched in 1995 with the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers (CSCE) as its main sponsor.

The modern competition is a three-day event held over a weekend at the end of the school year. It is divided into four main components spread out over the duration of the competition: the oral presentations, the over-all product, the design papers, and the races. First, teams present the important and interesting details of their design and construction process to a panel of judges, followed by an intense question period. Subsequently, all the teams set up an exhibition for judges, sponsors, passers-by, and fellow students to explore their unique approaches, challenges, and design solutions. Teams are judged in this section on overall workmanship, exterior and interior finish, cross-sectional workmanship and of course, the final product display table. In addition, teams must also submit a thorough and professional design paper summarizing important information such as concrete and composite development and testing, project management, and innovative elements of the final design. Finally, the most exciting part of the weekend is certainly seeing each and every canoe on the water, actually fulfilling the purpose for which they are designed. To add to the excitement, this year’s races will take place at the Olympic basin.


Following successful competitions held in Toronto, Sherbrooke, and Montreal, this year is McGill’s turn to profit from the home-water advantage. Teams from approximately 14 Canadian universities are expected to participate, two of which are participating for the first time, for a total over more than 300 students. The competition is only growing every year. Despite the relative novelty of the McGill Concrete Canoe Team, our fellow engineers are looking to build on a strong fifth-place finish in last year’s competition. Best of luck to our team, and may the best canoe win.

Furthermore, the inaugural Canadian National Steel Bridge Competition (CNSBC) is being organized by McGill University students in collaboration with the Canadian Society of Civil Engineering (CSCE) and the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction (CISC). This event will take place at McGill the same weekend as the CNCCC, the first time the university has hosted either of these events, and also the first time these events are being held simultaneously. The CNSBC was first created in the United States in 1987 by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC).

The main goals of the competition are simple: construct, assemble, test. The first step is to design a steel bridge while taking into account the competition rules, themselves similar to the real and important constraints facing a professional engineer during the design process. The bridge must be simultaneously as light and as stiff as possible, and it also must be assembled as quickly as possible on competition day. Moreover, as in any real scenario, cost must be minimized. The first-ever Canadian competition adds further aesthetic and architectural aspects to the structure evaluation as well.

By Nick Brunt


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