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“We don't force anyone to observe daylight saving”

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

Submitted photo
Pembroke town council in 1938 were asked to consider adopting daylight saving time. In the photo are (front left to right) Reeve F. Weldon Beatty, Mayor Albert Cockburn, Deputy Reeve Wallace Fraser, (back left to right) Councillor D.R. Rodgers, Councillor J. Dunlap, Councillor Dr. C.M. Purcell, Councillor J. Leitch, Councillor C. Ziegel, Councillor T. Giroux, Councillor Dr. G.V. Tario, Councillor George Biggs, and Councillor Charles Campbell.

Submitted photo Pembroke town council in 1938 were asked to consider adopting daylight saving time. In the photo are (front left to right) Reeve F. Weldon Beatty, Mayor Albert Cockburn, Deputy Reeve Wallace Fraser, (back left to right) Councillor D.R. Rodgers, Councillor J. Dunlap, Councillor Dr. C.M. Purcell, Councillor J. Leitch, Councillor C. Ziegel, Councillor T. Giroux, Councillor Dr. G.V. Tario, Councillor George Biggs, and Councillor Charles Campbell.

Imagine a year when the clocks went ahead pretty much everywhere else except in Pembroke.

That is exactly what happened in the spring of 1938 when the town council decided against adopting daylight saving time. At a margin of 6-2, the vote wasn't even close.

“This controversial question has been before the Canadian people long enough to show that neither side can change the views of the other, and compromise is apparently out of the question,” stated the Pembroke Standard-Observer. “As conditions now obtain the cities and many towns will adhere to Daylight Saving, but probably more towns and the entire rural sectors of Canada will stick to Standard Time. In Pembroke there are those who are not ashamed to say that they prefer Daylight Saving. They think that it is at least their privilege to have a preference. They consider that during the winter we are more or less like bears in their dens, housed up and in the summer we should make use of all the nice weather and sunshine that a kind of Providence has given us.”

Today, we take it for granted that daylight saving time (DST) falls on a Sunday in March. The shift is usually scheduled near a weekend midnight to lessen disruption to weekday schedules. It is observed across Canada, however, there are exceptions within several provinces, including most of Saskatchewan, which observes Central Standard Time. But it wasn't until the 1960s that Canada nationally synchronized daylight-saving time to match the U.S.

It was first proposed as a concept in 1895 by New Zealand entomologist George Hudson, whose shift work job gave him leisure time to collect insects and led him to value after-hours daylight (a century earlier, Benjamin Franklin suggested it as well). It wasn't until 1908 that the first Daylight Saving Bill was introduced in the British Parliament. Port Arthur, Ontario was the first Canadian town to adopt it that same year. During the First World War, the German Empire and its ally Austria-Hungary used DST as a means to conserve coal during wartime. The rest of Europe soon followed including Britain which introduced British Summer Time in 1916. Winston Churchill was a fan stating, “the opportunities for the pursuit of health and happiness among the millions of people who live in this country.”

The Dominion of Newfoundland became one of the first jurisdictions in North America to implement DST in 1917. In 1918, several Canadian cities, such as Winnipeg, Halifax, Hamilton, Montreal and Brandon, Manitoba passed bylaws instituting DST. Conservative prime minister Sir Robert Borden sought to have DST standardized nationally due in part to the fact that the U.S. had already moved ahead with it.

As Canadian trains were still operating on standard time, many were held up at the U.S/Canada border for an hour to resume their travels, in order to avoid collisions and meet schedules.

There were other reasons for DST. Borden's trade and commerce minister, Sir George Foster presented the House of Commons with studies from Britain which found that setting the clocks forward saved energy, increased people’s desire to get outdoors for longer periods of time and decreased crime among youth. Legislation was passed and on Sunday, April 14, 1918, clocks across the nation moved ahead one hour.

Provinces and municipalities were given the choice of opting out of daylight saving even after calls to abolish the practice in 1919 after the war. Thus, the matter was come up on an annual basis for years to come. On the evening of June 6, 1938, Pembroke town council once more had to consider the daylight saving question.

A resolution had been placed on the table by councillors Charles E. Campbell and George Biggs to observe summer time during the months of June and August. In support of their position, council reviewed letters from some company presidents, service stations, and even baseball and softball leagues who felt that daylight saving would be advantageous to their interests. Watching for council's decision was the Renfrew County Baseball League which had just began the 1938 season over the weekend with games in Chalk River, Eganville and Pembroke. While some games were in the afternoon, evening games were to begin by 5:45 p.m.

However, council received petitions from employees of the Canadian Splint and Lumber Corporation and the Consolidated Paper company protesting the move. Another 36 local merchants submitted their own petition while council learned that a majority of the employees at the Pembroke Shook Mills voted against the proposed measure.

Declaring that council should vote in favour of daylight saving, Mayor Albert Cockburn told his colleagues that local firms doing businesses with citiesare under great inconvenience owing to the difference in time and lose two or three hours each day. He noted that Camp Petawawa is on daylight saving and that more municipalities are adopting it each year.

A few years earlier, council had put daylight saving to the voters as a ballot question at election time. It was rejected. Some councillors inquired if they had the legal right to pass such a bylaw given the results of that plebiscite. Biggs clouded the issue stating folks could opt out of it if they wanted.

“We don't force anyone to observe daylight saving,” said Biggs. “We can pass a motion and people may observe it or not as they like.”

Reeve Weldon Beatty sponsored a similar motion in 1936. He said that merchants told him they oppose the measure because the trains and post offices still worked on standard time. While he had hoped for a one-year trial when he first brought the proposal, Beatty concluded public opinion was against them.

“Last year I voted against it because I knew there were many who did not like it and I cannot vote for this motion tonight,” he said.

As the president of the Junior Board of Trade, Councillor D.R. Rodgers was attacked by the mayor for not being progressive on this issue. While he was personally in favour of daylight saving, Rodgers said that he could not get the support of his constituents in the east ward as well as many on the board, as well as school principals who opposed the move. When polled the residents, the result was 88 opposed and 19 in favour.

“Only one citizen asked me to vote for daylight saving, and several have asked me not to,” he said.

When Cockburn was pressed about why a referendum was not put to the citizens the previous year, the answer was simple – there had been no election. The mayor responded that a bylaw came up in the previous year but was withdrawn because there was no gauge of support from the public. As every member of council had been acclaimed, Cockburn said there was no financial justification for an election (remember this was still the Great Depression).

When the final vote was called, the 'yeas' had only two ballots from Campbell and Biggs. Cockburn, who did not cast a vote, did not even call for those opposed knowing what the final result would be.

Today, Pembroke has daylight saving time like the rest of Canada. This Sunday, don't forget to turn the clocks ahead.

SChase@postmedia.com 



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