Jasper Dark Sky Festival

Keeping Time in Saskatchewan

With a few notable exceptions, daylight saving is observed all across Canada.

DAR - Grasslands Bison

Oblivious to time zones and daylight saving time , a Plains Bison roams in Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan. Courtesy David A. Rodger.

It was two days before the 2014 autumn equinox. And I was heading south along Highway #4 between Swift Current and Val Marie. The Sun was setting almost perfectly due west over an endless and perfect horizon. I glanced at the dashboard clock; it read 7:10pm. I laughed. You see, I was in Saskatchewan, where they had decided the province must remain on standard time 12 months of the year. Here, there would be no awkward, annoying shifts of an hour each March and November!

I laughed, because I knew the only way the Sun could be setting after 7:00pm around the equinox, was if Saskatchewan was actually on daylight saving time. Otherwise sunset would be at, or about, 6:00pm. What’s going on here?

Lets’ refresh our understanding of time zones.

In the late 19th century a system of 24 time zones was adopted throughout the world. Up to then, every town and city had set their clocks to local solar time — the time when the Sun is due south. If you took a train east or west, you’d have to re-set your watch at every town and city. The railways hated this, of course. Since Britain was the 19th century’s ruling naval and scientific power, the prime meridian (zero) of longitude for the newly-devised system of time zones ran from the north to south poles through the London suburb of Greenwich.

Before the time zones were bent to conform to national, state and provincial boundaries (which happened almost as soon as the system was invented), each zone was exactly 15 degrees wide. Thus all territory within the 15 degrees would keep the same time. Greenwich Mean Time was to extend seven and a half degrees on either side of zero. The next time zone to the west would be centered on the 15th meridian, the next on the 30th, then the 45th and so on.

The seventh time zone to the west of Greenwich was centered on the 105th meridian, which we call “Mountain Time.” The centre of this 15-degree-wide time zone runs almost directly through the middle of Saskatchewan north to south. So, obviously all of Saskatchewan should keep Mountain Time. If only things were that sensible.

NRC-Time-zone chart

Current Canadian time zones. Courtesy NRC

Parts of eastern Saskatchewan wanted to be on the same time as Manitoba (Central), much as parts of eastern British Columbia keep Alberta time. But, when Manitobans advanced their clocks an hour to Central Daylight Time in the spring, the eastern Saskatchewan communities had to choose between remaining on standard time or not. Some did; others didn’t. The Canadian Pacific Railway stayed on Central Standard Time well westward into Saskatchewan, and then changed to Mountain Standard Time at Broadview, a town about 150 kilometres east of Regina. The railway, however, did not observe daylight saving time back then. Railway stations in Saskatchewan maintained only standard time — Central or Mountain — despite what the communities around them observed.

Confused? It gets worse.

Each of the principal cities — Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Swift Current and Prince Albert — handled the issue of daylight saving time differently. Regina usually adopted daylight saving time for the summer; Moose Jaw, 70 kilometres to the west, often did not. Saskatoon did; Prince Albert did not. It was a mess. You never knew when you came to a village, town or city — especially in the summer — what time it was going to be, or how long it might stay that way. A 200-kilometre drive could force you to change your timepieces half a dozen times.

I grew up in Saskatchewan and remember well the heated debates in the news media about time zones and daylight saving time. Farmers were strongly opposed to moving clocks ahead an hour in the spring and back an hour in the fall. They claimed their cows would not give milk on daylight saving time and their chickens wouldn’t lay eggs.

My favourite memory is of a Saskatoon church with a giant clock showing standard time, even when the city had shifted to daylight saving time. Beneath the clock was a big, bold caption that proclaimed that the clock was on “God’s Time!”

In 1966, the Saskatchewan government decided enough was enough. After a raucous debate, its Legislature passed a law that put the entire province on — wait for it — Central Standard Time all year. I guess that satisfied the cows and chickens. But this action perpetrated a kind of fraud, by claiming that Saskatchewan would remain on standard time all year. You see, Central Standard Time and Mountain Daylight Time are the same! So the effect of the legislation was to put Saskatchewan (which lies astride the 105th meridian on which the Mountain Time Zone is based) on daylight saving time all year.

Did that end the controversy? Of course not! Taking the designation “standard” in Central Standard Time literally, many Saskatchewan folks (mainly in the larger cities) would like to advance their clocks by an hour in March like people in most of the rest of Canada. But, alas, they’re already on daylight saving time. They just need to look up at the sky once in a while and check the time and position of the Sun — at sunrise, mid-day and sunset.

David A. Rodger is an editor, a writer, broadcaster and an amateur astronomer living in North Vancouver, British Columbia. From 1967 to 1980, he served as the first director of Vancouver’s H.R. MacMillan Planetarium.

Categories: Astronomy Science
9 comments on “Keeping Time in Saskatchewan
  1. Larry McMillan says:

    Its all a bunch of BS. Let’s leave it on one or the other all year long.

    • Hervey Emery Douville says:

      Why not leave it on God’s time all year long?
      Let the lazy people get up in the morning and enjoy the
      fresh air before going to work instead of the days
      pollute in the evening. What a dumb excuse it is to go on
      fast time, brainwave of mostly city folk….

  2. David Dodge says:

    Great article.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we got rid of DST altogether? It’s far outlived its reason for existence (to save energy and increase output for the war of 1914 – 1918). It’s much like cutting a foot off a rug at one end and sewing to the other and calling the rug a foot longer!

  3. Wayne Still says:

    I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan in the 40s and 50s. I well remember the debates and controversy about the time change. Kids in the one room school house were not about to start school at 8 o’clock!!! The funniest thing I remember about it was that many people in the country would refer to the cities as being on “fast time”. So a trip to Regina took some mental gymnastics to figure out when to leave so as to have a full day in the city. I say get rid of DST altogether

  4. Rob McCleave says:

    My rigorous empirical research leads me to conclude (based on one data point!) that the only thing that brought the endless winter of 2014-15 to a close was the advent of Daylight saving time.

    Daylight saving time is therefore a Good Thing.

    QED

  5. Ken Cramb says:

    We are slowly sliding back into the Dark Ages ( ISIS), soon nothing will matter.So don’t
    worry and be happy. Ken. Port Alberni

  6. Peter Leney says:

    I wish the author had given details of the “heated debate,” not just make farmers look silly claiming their cows would not give milk under DST, a needlessly snide distortion of whatever must have been the farmers’ argument.
    I drove across Canada last late September and woke at 7 in darkness everywhere until I reached Saskatchewan and it was light at 7. What a beautiful sight! Saskatchewan and its farmers simply prefer their light in the morning, when it is useful to work.

  7. Enjoyed this brief review. The sky here is overcast, high winds-NW-and driving snow storm just now, a dark morning no matter the time on the clock. I favour not changing the time. Back many decades when I lived in a town with rail passenger service, it was a problem figuring rail time when travelling. Thanks for sending this ahead of the print version.

  8. David Rodger says:

    I’d like Peter to elaborate on his drive across Canada. I don’t understand how it could have been dark at 7:00 am everywhere but in Saskatchewan. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t make sense. Other factors such as latitude, dates when he’s in various locations and weather conditions would have to be factored in.

    I recall a letter to the Regina Leader-Post on the time zone controversy a few years ago. The author noted that it was daylight in Calgary when it was getting dark in Regina.

    That has nothing to do with time zones. That has to do with the fact that the earth is round and rotates eastward. Thus the sun will always rise and set in Regina about 45 minutes before it rises in Calgary.

    One other point: In September, especially around the date of the equinox, everyone is getting about the same number of daylight and night-time hours. Only latitude would affect this, through morning or evening twilight. So, if he drove through Prince Albert or Edmonton as opposed to Lethbridge or Swift Current, he would definitely notice a longer twilight period in the northern cities compared to the southern ones.

    I’m intrigued by Peter’s comment on daylight in Saskatchewan, but something is definitely missing in his description, and I’d like to know more.

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