Patrick Boyer posits that time zones, which are artificial, follow political and economic priorities rather than the natural curves of Earth. This is consistent with daylight saving time zones being embedded within politicised motivations.
This week’s shift to “daylight saving time” is a reminder of just how complicated humans can make things when striving to impose efficient order by our invented constructs of “time.”
For starters, as the world’s second-largest country, Canada’s transcontinental geography embraces six artificial “time zones.” From east to west: Newfoundland standard, Atlantic standard, Eastern standard, Central standard, Mountain standard, and Pacific standard time zones put abrupt edges to the “time of day.” Starting from the “zero point” for time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich (southeast of London, England), “Greenwich Mean Time” begins the westerly march of hours around the globe, marked off by meridians of longitude.
An efficient measuring system should take no account of seas or borders, cities or farming zones, but politics and economics beat neatness of lines. The 90th meridian, just west of Thunder Bay, being six zones removed from Greenwich, should be a time zone boundary but isn’t. The seventh hour west of Greenwich should start on the 105th meridian, running between Saskatoon and Regina, but it was set instead at the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border, the northern part of which is on the 102nd meridian, so all Saskatchewanians would live in the same time zone. From inception, compromises to accommodate human communities altered the measured boundary lines of time.
Meanwhile from south to north, we simultaneously accommodate nature’s own alternating seasons between the lush Carolinian forest in Ontario’s southernmost area and the high Arctic latitudes far above the treeline that bask in 24-hour summer sunlight and are cloaked with full darkness in winter.
Into this convoluted mix was then added daylight saving time. From the early 1900s use of this artificial construct, often called “Fast Time,” was encouraged throughout Canada on a voluntary basis. It’s under provincial jurisdiction, so across-Canada variety appeared. Even the “time saving” schedule itself was altered, from starting first Sunday in April to the second Sunday in March, and standard time no longer resuming the last Sunday of October, but on the first Sunday in November.
War changes everything. Daylight time was first imposed by edict in Germany on April 30, 1916 to conserve fuel for producing weapons in factories. Canada followed suit by 1918. After the war, Prime Minister Borden’s government heeded protests of rural MPs, including Muskoka’s Dr. Peter McGibbon, about daylight saving time’s adverse economic and social impacts. Farmers lost an hour’s work each day, because cows could not be milked any earlier and heavy dew on the ground made field work impossible. Ottawa repealed the temporary war measure. Provinces resumed control.
Urbanites had fewer problems with daylight saving time. Ontario’s abundant electricity for lighting, heating and operating machinery meant offices and factories no longer had to shut down with darkness, while street lights and electrified homes effectively extended winter’s days. But even people whose lives run like clockwork have diverse time-sensitive tasks to perform, so reaching consensus about altering the clock twice yearly remained challenging.
During the Second World War, Ottawa again invoked emergency powers to force daylight saving time on the entire country. After the war provinces resumed control, with a patchwork of mixed results. Saskatchewan contained three meandering time zones, which created such confusion the exasperated railways ran schedules on standard time year round.
The issue lives on. Last March, the European Parliament voted to permanently remove daylight saving time so, if implemented, 2021 will be the last time EU countries make the seasonal clock change. In November 2019, British Columbia’s government introduced legislation to scrap bi-annual clock changes, make daylight saving permanent, and rename the province’s zone “Pacific Time.”
What time is it where you are?
Boyer, P. 2020 “Excuse Me Muskoka, Could You Please Tell Me What Time It Is?” MuskokaRegion.com March 12 2020. https://www.muskokaregion.com/opinion-story/9880319-excuse-me-muskoka-could-you-please-tell-me-what-time-it-is-/