Where did daylight savings time come from?

A brief history of the time change in Canada...

It's nearly time for us to "fall back" an hour and end our Daylight Saving Time (DST) for the year. We have been losing an hour in the spring and adding an hour in the fall for over 100 years. It's just a part of our life in Canada. But, have you ever stopped to wonder why we have DST? If you ask most people why we change our clocks, they will say it's to give North American farmers more daylight time during harvest. This isn't true though. The start of DST doesn't actually have anything to do with farming at all.

DST started as a small idea. In 1908, a local businessman in the town of Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay), Ontario asked town council to adjust the clocks in the summer months so local children could enjoy an extra hour of the summer sun. The council agreed, and the town became the first municipality in the world to turn its clocks ahead one hour from June to September. One year later, a neighbouring town, Fort William, followed suit and the two towns “sprung ahead” on May 1, 1910. In 1914, Kenora, Ontario also decided it would also observe DST.

Since there were only three Ontario towns using DST, there were immediate problems. If people lived in one town and went to work or school in the other, then they had to figure out the time change even if they were only travelling a few miles. Local services were forced to use both time zones as ferry passengers, shoppers and workers who were mostly from the Canadian national timezone wanted to ensure that they were on time for activities. In short, DST caused chaos and misunderstandings for months. The experiment only lasted one season.

During World War I — in 1916, to be exact — Germany and its allies re-introduced the idea of DST for a more practical reason. Since resources were running low, they adopted the time change as a way to conserve coal. Britain, parts of Europe, Canada and the U.S. eventually followed suit throughout the war. In most cases, DST ended with the armistice.

In North America though, Canada and the US officially adopted DST in 1918 when the war was over. The US government felt the time change would help businesses across the country make more money since it gave office workers more daylight for shopping at the end of the day. Most of the country was on board with the time change idea, but farmers across the country loudly disagreed with the decision. The shifted clock interfered with a farm's natural schedules and made things like milk delivery more difficult. Even though we often think that DST was started for farmers, this group hated the idea so much that they rallied to have it repealed in 1919.

The repeal obviously didn't work since we are still participating in DST today. DST remained relatively unchanged until the late 1960s when Canada aligned the start and end of DST with the US to help make cross border travel and trade easier.

Today in Canada, it's up to each province to decide whether to use daylight time. Most — but not all — jurisdictions in Canada and the U.S. have been moving their clocks ahead by one hour on the second Sunday in March and back by one hour on the first Sunday in November.