In 2005, then Intergovernmental Affairs and Trade Minister Scott Smith introduced legislation to extend daylight saving time (DST) in Manitoba by four weeks. The legislation was passed and came into effect in 2007, as a result, Manitobans now turn their clocks ahead by one hour on the second Sunday in March and one hour back on the first Sunday in November, with both changes occurring at 2 a.m.
“Stakeholders have raised concerns that by not synchronizing Manitoba’s clocks with those in the central time zone south of the border, difficulties would occur at border crossings and with airline flights into the United States,” said Smith. “Not only will this legislation add daylight to evening hours for four additional weeks but it will ensure that trade with the United States is not affected.”
So the extension of DST is rightfully blamed on the U.S.
The original intent of DST was to extend usable hours of daylight in the summer months. It matters little during a Manitoba winter if clocks are put ahead or back by an hour, as everyone goes to work or school in the dark and all return home shrouded in blackness.
While American Benjamin Franklin is often credited with coming up with the idea of DST in a 1784 anonymous newspaper editorial, it’s not a supportable assertion. Franklin was then an envoy to France and his comments simply implied that the French were lazy, staying in bed well after the sun rose and thus wasted valuable sunlight. Using satire, Franklin said the French could save money on candles if they got up earlier. The reality is that in 1784 there was really no need for DST.
Actually, DST was first proposed by William Willett in his 1907 pamphlet, The Waste of Daylight. Willett was an avid golfer who was disappointed by his inability to pursue his favourite sport due to the use of standard time throughout the year. “Leisure must follow, not precede, work,” he wrote, “and compulsory earlier business hours are quite attainable.”
Willett proposed that clocks be moved 20 minutes ahead at 2 a.m. on each Sunday in April and be turned back 20 minutes during each Sunday in September. He said by making the change on successive Sundays, “practically no one would be conscious of the change.”
He claimed there was also an economic benefit gained by using DST. “Everyone, rich and poor alike, will find their ordinary expenditure on electric light, gas, oil and candles considerably reduced for nearly six months in every year.”
Furthermore, he said, there would be less coal used for heating homes and fuelling industries, resulting in less smoke to “defile the air.”
Willett’s common theme was how DST would benefit health and happiness — not to mention his golf game. “While daylight surrounds us, cheerfulness reigns, anxieties press less heavily, and courage is bred for the struggle of life.”
Although he didn’t have medical proof at the time, there is truth to Willett’s claim, as it was later found that the mood-altering affliction called Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) is caused by the shortness of sunlight hours during the winter.
Robert Pearce, the MP for Leek, thought Willett was onto sometime so he introduced a bill on February 4, 1908, in the British House of Commons that would make DST the law of the land. The bill gained widespread acceptance from influential people such as renowned Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who said, “It seems very strange that in the course of the world’s history so obvious an improvement should never have been adopted.”
But not everyone was a fan of DST. The editors of the scientific journal Nature commented: “It would be more reasonable to change the readings of a thermometer at a particular season than to alter the time shown on a clock ...” They wondered if another bill could be introduced “to increase the readings of thermometers by ten degrees during the winter months, so that 32°F shall be 42°C. One temperature can be called another just as easily as 2 a.m. can be expressed as 3 a.m. ..., but the change in name in neither case causes a change of condition.
“The advance from ‘local' time to the ‘standard’ time (advocated by Canadian Sir Sandford Fleming, which created the system of time zones) of today was a step well thought out, and one that cannot be reversed by the introduction of a new and really nondescript time ...”
Other critics included farmers, who said that when harvesting hay they had to wait until the crop was dried out by the sun. “Will the cows give their milk earlier because of Mr. Willett? Will the chickens know what time to go to bed?” asked rural opponents of the bill. Other opponents said it would be simpler just to open businesses, schools, etc., an hour earlier.
In the end, the bill failed to pass in the British House of Commons.
Within Canada, Orillia, Ontario, had a rather embarrassing introduction to DST. Mayor William “Bill” Frost and newspaper publisher Charles H. Hale wanted to set their town apart and latched onto DST as the method to achieve this goal. In his newspaper, The Packet, Hale argued that workers no sooner got home from work in the summer and had dinner and then darkness fell. DST would benefit workers, he commented, by introducing another hour of sunlight.
DST was made law in Orillia on Saturday, June 22, 1912. Mayor Frost awoke the next morning, had his breakfast, dressed and made his way to church, but he was an hour late for the service.
“The confusion was beyond belief,” wrote Hale, who mentioned that church bells rang at different times. On Monday morning, merchants arrived to open their stores an hour late, having forgotten to move their clocks, and some factories and industries accepted the change, while others didn’t.
The standard joke at the time was: “Do you go on God’s time or Bill Frost’s time?” In fact, Frost earned the nickname “Daylight Bill.” Years later, when most of Canada adopted DST, he carried this nickname with pride.
The problem with DST is that it has been shown not to be the great answer to energy savings. Studies in the U.S. and Australia dispel this claim, showing nominal or no energy savings resulting from using DST. Other studies indicate that those who benefit most from DST are leisure and recreation providers. If Willett was alive today, he would without doubt be proud that golfers are benefiting from his proposal.
But most of us only gain an hour of sleep in November and lose another in March, a trade-off that seems hardly worth the time of day.