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Daylight Savings Time: Why We Have It And Where It Came From

The history and reasons why DST exists.
Daylight Savings Time: Why We Have It And Where It Came From

Twice a year, you change the time on your clock, either moving the hour hand forward or back depending on the time of year. The annual "fall back" is happening this Sunday, and while the practice is habitual and observed almost all across the country, what do you really know about daylight savings time?

At its core, daylight savings time (DST) is all about fitting more sunlight into a day. By putting your clock back in the late fall, when days get shorter, people will be wake when the sun is actually up, and the reversal when the days get longer in the spring.

Montreal was actually one of the first Canadian cities to observe DST, before the entire nation adopted the practice in 1918, and the city has been using DST ever since. But the true origins of the custom date back even further.

George Hudson, an entomologist (an insect scientist) from New Zealand, was the first person to come up with the concept of daylight savings. In 1895, after realizing that his bug collecting was way better when he had more daylight after work, Hudson presented a paper covering the benefits of a two-hour clock shift, followed by a second paper in 1898.

But it wasn't until April 1916 did DST actually get implemented, and World War I was the cause. Both Germany and Austria-Hungary needed a way to use less coal during the war, and so they turned their clocks back to capitalize on the sun as much as possible. Realizing the benefits, a majority of Europe did the same.

About a year later, in 1918, the United States and Canada as a whole embraced DST. After WWI, some countries stopped changing clocks, until the dawn of WWII, when DST was re-adopted and largely stuck. Canada, however, never stopped with DST and has been continually setting the time backwards and forwards since the initial start date, largely influenced by the U.S. who has done the same.

There was actually a pretty significant change with DST in recent years, if any of you remember. Thanks to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the date when the clocks are set back was changed to the first Sunday of November (this Sunday!) and the forward-date was modded to be the second Sunday of March. Truthfully, I had no idea this happened so recently, because like many of you, I just let everyone else tell me when DST is happening.

Modernly, the merit of DST is arguable; with modern technology the benefits of DST don't seem all that apparent. Back when incandescent lighting was used, ensuring people had the most sunlight in a day made sense, but now we have light bulbs attached to power grids, lighting really isn't an issue. Some studies have even shown that we use more energy because of DST, which goes against its intended purpose entirely.

Still, DST has been a custom in Montreal and Canada so long that it isn't likely it's going anywhere. While some nations like Argentina, Iceland, Singapore, and Belarus use a "permanent daylight saving time" system, and always stay on the summer time-schedule, Canada probably won't follow suit, especially since the struggle of getting sunlight in the winter is so real.

Interestingly, Quebec houses one of the only areas in all of Canada that don't observe DST. Specifically, almost all areas east of 63° west longitude in the province's North Shore use Atlantic time, but don't set their clocks back or forth. In doing so, this allows them to have the same time as the rest of Quebec in the summer, when we all set clocks forward, and return to Atlantic time in November.

Oh, and for all for of you who still don't know, DST begins (clocks turn back) this Sunday, November 1st at 2am. So when you're out partying on Halloween, and the clock strikes 2am, you get an entire extra hour of partying! It's a Halloween miracle.

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