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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Happy Daylight Saving Time!

About twice a month we walk across the road outside of the Medical Sciences building and eat lunch in the cafeteria with the engineers in the Sandford Fleming Building. The building is named after one of Toronto's most famous engineers Sir Sandford Fleming (1827-1915).

Fleming was the Engineer-in-Chief of several railways and played a prominent role in surveying for the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway. His work as a surveyor is remarkable. It's commemorated by a large plaque and monument outside of the Sandford Flemming building. A bronze line embedded in the concrete marks the location of the Meridian of Toronto (79°24' WEST OF GREENWICH). The plaque beside it reads ...
This line, in the true north-south direction through the site of the Toronto magnetic observatory, marks the meridian for Toronto that was recognized by scientists around the world until 1908.

Each section of this beam is 3.085 metres long, equivalent to 0.1 seconds of arc of latitude, exmplifying the high precision of the 1883 determination of the latitude and longitude of the observatory, recorded on the transit pillar nearby.

In 1840, magnetic north here was almost coincident with true north, but has drifted slowly westward since that time. By 1898, when magnetic observations had to be abandoned at this site owing to interference from the newly electirfied street railways, the variation had reached 5 degrees.

I always make guests stop to read the plaque and appreciate what 0.1 seconds of arc looks like. They also have to recognize that the line points to the North Pole (and the South Pole). I know it sounds strange, but most of them don't seem to be as excited about this as they should be. And when I tell them that I've stood on the Greenwich meridian their eyes glaze over.

Sandford Fleming is also responsible for "inventing" standard time based on the Greenwich meridian. This "universal time" was adopted at an international conference in 1884. Fleming's initial proposals to divide he world into 24 local time zones were not adopted at that conference but gradually over the course of the next several decades, countries moved to conform to the time zones we now recognize (Sandford Fleming and Standard Time).

Daylight Saving Time came much later. According to the Wikipedia article (Daylight Saving Time ..
Start and end dates and times vary with location and year. Since 1996 the European Union has observed DST from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October, shifting clocks at 01:00 UTC. Starting in 2007, most of the United States and Canada observe DST from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November, shifting clocks typically at 02:00 local time. The 2007 U.S. change was part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005; previously, from 1987 through 2006, the start and end dates were the first Sunday in April and the last Sunday in October, and Congress retains the right to go back to the previous dates once an energy consumption study is done.

Saving daylight was first mentioned in 1784 by Benjamin Franklin in a humorous letter[2] urging Parisians to save money by getting up earlier to use morning sunlight, thereby burning fewer candles in the evening. Franklin did not mention daylight saving time—he did not propose that clock time be changed. His letter was in the spirit of his earlier proverb "Early to bed and early to rise / Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."[3]

DST was first proposed in 1907 by William Willett.[4] An avid golfer, he disliked cutting short his round at dusk. The proposal attracted many eminent supporters, including Balfour, Churchill, Lloyd George, and MacDonald. Edward VII also favored DST, and had already been using it informally at Sandringham. However, Prime Minister Asquith opposed the proposal and after many hearings it was narrowly defeated in a Parliament committee vote in 1909. Willett's allies introduced new DST bills every year from 1911 through 1914, to no avail.

DST was first enacted by a national government by Germany during World War I, starting April 30, 1916. The United Kingdom soon followed suit, first observing it on May 21, 1916. On June 17, 1917, Newfoundland became the first North American jurisdiction to adopt DST with the Daylight Saving Act of 1917. On March 19, 1918, the U.S. Congress established DST from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October. The wartime measure, however, proved unpopular among farmers, and Congress repealed it in 1919. Woodrow Wilson, another avid golfer, vetoed the repeal but the veto was overridden.
The official spelling is Daylight Saving Time, not Daylight SavingS Time.

Saving is used here as a verbal adjective (a participle). It modifies time and tells us more about its nature; namely, that it is characterized by the activity of saving daylight. It is a saving daylight kind of time. Similar examples would be a mind expanding book or a man eating tiger. Saving is used in the same way as saving a ball game, rather than as a savings account.

Nevertheless, many people feel the word savings (with an 's') flows more mellifluously off the tongue. Daylight Savings Time is also in common usage, and can be found in dictionaries.

Adding to the confusion is that the phrase Daylight Saving Time is inaccurate, since no daylight is actually saved. Daylight Shifting Time would be better, but it is not as politically desirable.

Daylight Saving Time
The USA didn't enact binding federal legislation until 1966 according to a more complete history at The Uniform Time Act section of the Daylight Saving website. Under that law clocks were shifted forward on the last Sunday in March. As mentioned in the Wikipedia article, a new law was passed in 2005 requiring that the shift take place on the second Sunday in March and last night was the first time that change has been implemented. Canada was forced to follow the American lead on this issue because it would have been too confusing for Canada to stick to the old dates.

The reason for extending daylight saving is to save energy. While there is some controversy over the amount of energy that will be saved, there seems to be a consensus that the gains in the evening outweigh the losses in the morning. The original implementation of daylight saving time was justified on several grounds but its acceptance by the general public is mostly related to the extended periods of daylight in the evening. (It's not just golfers who enjoy the extra sunlight.)

If you want to see the effect of daylight saving in different parts of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, check out this amazing graphic at the Daylight Saving website [Daylight Saving Map]. It's easy to see why countries near the equator don't benefit from shifting their clocks.

But there are other places that don't shift their clocks. In many case it's because the political units fall on one of the standard lines that separate times zones. For example, my home province of Saskatchewan doesn't use daylight saving time for this reason. The map below shows countries and regions that don't use daylight saving time. (Incidentally, this map is an amazing example of the free work done to make Wikipedia an excellent source of information. The figures posted to Wikipedia are released into the public domain.)

[Photo Credit: The photograph of the plaque is by Alan L Brown (March 24, 2004) from the website.]


  1. Wow, so it's Daylight Saving Time in Canada? What a coincidence, it's Daylight Saving Time in the USA as well!

    [Insert joke about 51st state here]

  2. DST reminds me of those people who set their watches 5 minutes ahead so they won't be late. Instead of changing the clocks, why doesn't the gov't just legislate that in the summer, lunch should be at 11:00 instead of 12:00?

  3. [insert joke about 11th province here]

  4. Two things:
    1) "magnetic north here was almost coincident with true north."
    What is "true" North? Is that based on the axis of rotation?
    2) I believe that the map is inaccurate. Isn't there a part of Indiana that doesn't go to DST?

  5. I used your picture of the plaque to Flemming here: