Thunder Bay

Going back in time to start of Daylight Saving in Port Arthur, Fort William

An archivist with the City of Thunder Bay thinks daylight saving time actually began in Fort William and Port Arthur back in the early 1900’s.

Almost 112 years ago, the 2 towns that became Thunder Bay voted to spring ahead one hour on May 1, 1908

The Waste of Daylight Saving pamphlet from 1914 cites Port Arthur and Fort William as having gained from the use of Daylight Saving. The literature in the pamphlet was used globally to share information about the progress of the Daylight Saving Bill. (City of Thunder Bay Archives TBA 2555-01)

As communities across the world spring forward with the start of Daylight Saving Time (DST), some may be wondering why once a year an hour of sleep is lost to the clocks, and where the time change actually got its start.

An archivist with the city of Thunder Bay thinks Daylight Saving actually began in Fort William and Port Arthur back in the early 1900's.

"From what I was able to find we may have been the first in the entire world to do it, and it may just be that because...lots of small places may have done it in the same way just sort of on their own," said Christina Wakefield, associate archivist with the city of Thunder Bay. 

'Beneficial to the community'

Wakefield explained both Fort William and Port Arthur city councils voted on March 30, 1908 to switch to Eastern Standard Time (EST) on May 1, of that year, citing it would be "beneficial to the community".

"Both of them just voted that May 1 they were going to switch to Eastern Standard Time and November 1 they were going to switch back," said Wakefield. 

Wakefield said a committee consisting of an alderman and the mayor was appointed to "approach the various employees of labour with a view of getting them to conform".

According to records at the city's archival office, a man named John Hewitson was lobbying for the change because he thought gaining an hour of daylight in the spring would leave more time in evenings for people in Port Arthur and Fort William to be more active after a day of work.

DST gave more time to play sports

"He had come from Rossport (Ont.), and he was very into...amateur sports athletics, and so he felt that people would be able to have more time to participate in sports after work and enjoy their lives," Wakefield explained.

Things became complicated in 1909 when Fort William switched clocks back an hour on November 1, and Port Arthur did not, which meant for five months the two neighbouring cities had an hour time difference. 

The Waste of Daylight pamphlet from 1914 says "all objections have been forgotten, and everyone is agreed upon the great benefit gained during the summer months," about Fort William and Port Arthur's vote to observe Daylight Saving. (City of Thunder Bay Archives)

Wakefield said that newspapers had to print advertisements for events during this period to include two start times, in order to accommodate the time difference between the two cities. 

The time difference was rectified when the Ontario government granted both cities permission to go forward with DST.

"So they all wanted to stay on eastern time because it was seen as this  permanent switch to Daylight Saving Time, so in 1910 the Ontario government gave both cities permission to permanently switch to Eastern Standard Time," explained Wakefield.

Some of us might still be adjusting to springing forward with Daylight Saving Time yesterday. And love it or hate it, it turns out that people in Thunder Bay actually have a historical connection to turning the clocks ahead. 5:33