Standard time vs. daylight saving

Aren’t you happy that we’re going to spring forward and change our clocks at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 12?


If you’re in the latter category, it’s probably because the change disrupts your sleep pattern and it may take considerable time for you to adjust. The Daylight Saving Time (DST) change can affect people’s circadian rhythms and disrupt their regular sleep habits. People can find it hard to go to bed, because they’re too awake to go to sleep.

A form of DST was first imagined by American Benjamin Franklin (he hadn’t exactly hit upon the concept of DST) in his 1784 essay, An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light, which he sent to the editor of The Journal of Paris. Franklin was the U.S. envoy to France at the time, and was also noted for the saying, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

Of course, Franklin’s anonymous essay was pure satire. As a joke, he proposed taxing window shutters, rationing candles and waking people by ringing church bells and firing cannons at sunrise. At the time, Parisian nobles were notorious for partying all night — dinner was usually between 10 and 11 p.m., and there were also the wine drinking, balls, gambling and theatre in the evening — and sleeping well into the afternoon hours. Apparently, a frustrated Franklin of “early to rise” fame wasn’t enamored by the Parisian pastimes; thus, the satirical essay to wake people up to the fact they weren’t  “healthy, wealthy,” nor “wise.” Well, they may have been wealthy, but Franklin probably reasoned they were neither healthy or wise by partying the night away.

The first time DST was actually proposed was in 1895 by New Zealand entomologist George Hudson. He valued after-hours away from his shift-work job to collect insect specimens. In 1905, English builder and outdoorsman William Willett independently came up with the concept of DST. He was an avid golfer with a dislike of cutting rounds short at dusk on a summer’s day. Until his death in 1915, Willett lobbied the British Parliament to adopt his proposal, although unsuccessfully.

In Canada, Orillia mayor, William Sword Frost, introduced DST in his community during his tenure from 1911 to 1912.

The first national DST began on April 30, 1916 in Germany and the Austria-Hungary Empire to conserve coal during the First World War. Other nations, such as Russia, Britain and the U.S. followed suit a year later.

What may be surprising is that Winnipeg also adopted DST in 1916, although not without some controversy.

“Mr. C.W. Rowley has called the attention of Winnipeg’s civic rulers to the widely-discussed Daylight Saving Time Bill and the mental, moral and physical benefits which would accrue to the working classes of this city if it were to put into force by just moving the clock forward one hour on the first Sunday in April and leaving it there till the first Sunday in October,” stated a February 16, 1916, editorial in the Winnipeg Tribune.

Note that the call was springing forward in April and falling back in October. Today, we spring forward in March and back in November.

“It is contended that the employer, too, would benefit materially, for he would obtain more efficient service for his employees,” continued the editorial, which pointed out that the scheme had already been adopted in Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Regina, Calgary and Port Arthur.

“Supporters of the Bill contend that during the months from April to October, Nature gives much light in the morning of which little use is made by the majority of us.”

City council initially balked at the full adoption of DST.

“By refusing to pass a bylaw authorizing the Winnipeg Street Railway Company (WSRC) to change its time from standard to the new schedule, the city council today threw a monkey-wrench into its own daylight-saving scheme,” reported the April 22, 1916, Tribune. “As a result the Winnipeg Electric Railway (streetcar service) will operate its cars on Monday on the ‘old’ standard time, while most people will go to work on the ‘new’ time.”

What it also meant was that the company’s use of standard time threw the whole system of colour-coded tickets into disarray. It only accepted the eight-for-a-quarter red tickets between 6 and 8 a.m. and between 5 and 6:30 p.m. in the evening under the “old” standard time. People were enraged that they would have to pay an additional cost to take a streetcar, which was the primary mode of transportation for workers in Winnipeg, for one hour every morning and evening.

Fortunately for workers, the following announcement was made by Harry Howell, the general manager of the city’s streetcar service: “Winnipeg Electric Railway company is pleased to comply with the expressed wish of the city council and adopt the daylight saving plan, but owing to the fact that the necessary bylaw permitting it to change its schedules was not enacted ... it was impossible for us to notify the conductors and motormen who operate the early morning cars in time to change our schedule, and we will therefore be obliged to continue operating on standard time tomorrow, but we commence operating on new local city time on Wednesday morning, April 25.” In effect, there was a two-day lag in the adoption of DST by the streetcar service.

Over the years, the debate continued — pro or con for DST.

In 1949, a group was formed to “fight fast time.” The Standard Time League, which included milk wagon drivers, theatre operators and railway and needle trade unions, claimed they had the right “to fight for our business.”

Milkmen, who rose at 2 a.m., were strongly opposed to “fast time.”

Father William Tunney, an Anglican priest, claimed mothers were “just in despair, especially in school time,” because of the task of getting children to bed early with fast time, according to the September 9, 1949, Tribune.

In terms of springing forward in the spring, R.W. Griffin, of St. James, wrote to the editor of the Tribune on March 21, 1949, that he lived in a household with seven people, who were all working class — tradesmen, office workers and a government employee. “Not one of us benefits by daylight saving time. It is about time the federal government passed a Dominion law with teeth in it to outlaw all daylight saving time in the Dominion unless there is a national emergency.”

While Griffin was opposed to DST, the newspaper heavily favoured it. In a March 18, 1949, editorial, the newspaper claimed that in a country with such long winters, “citizens should not be denied the privilege of getting out in the sunlight in their fields and gardens, in the parks and public playgrounds whenever they can.”

Oh boy, the arguments for or against DST are just as likely to instill a yawn as is springing forward on March 12. We just have to accept the fact that DST is here to stay whether we like it or not!