The Times They Are (Not) a-Changin’

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Things are changing so quickly these days! It seems every moment is bringing something new to deal with! So, for today’s dose of history, we present the story of something that hasn’t changed at all in over one hundred years: Creston’s time zone. This is a lengthy saga, so I’m going to present it over two days. Today, the origins of the situation:

First, a few observations. For starters, Creston’s time zone is not unique. In addition to the oft-cited Saskatchewan and Peace River districts, there are also parts of Nunavut and eastern Quebec which do not observe daylight saving time. Three communities in northwestern Ontario observe it all year long. Newfoundland is off in its own little world, half an hour ahead of the rest of the Atlantic time zone. And that’s just within Canada. The more I’ve looked into it, the more I’ve come to conclude that there are so many exceptions to the spring-ahead-fall-back rule, that the rule is actually the exception.

Secondly, if you google “daylight saving time” and go onto some of the few bazillion or so websites that come up, you will see postings from thousands of people who hate it and would love to not have it any more. Australia’s had a whole series of referendums to reject it. I think it’s one of those grass-is-always-greener things.

Third, we are, today, making a much bigger deal of the whole thing than it ever was in the past.

Now for a little background. In the beginning, communities set their own clocks individually, with noon being whatever time the sun was highest in the sky. For you trivia buffs out there, solar noon varies by one minute for every eighteen kilometres of east-west separation. This worked fine in the days when communities were pretty much isolated and self-sufficient and travelling from one to the other was a rare event that required considerable effort. But imagine trying to establish a railway schedule when every community your train goes through is on its own time. So Sir Sanford Fleming of the CPR “invented” Standard Time: the world was divided into twenty-four time zones, with the time in each one being an hour different from its neighbours. In 1884 the rest of the world agreed, and set the prime meridian at Greenwich, England. In Canada, Standard Time became synonymous with “CPR Time.”

Donald Smith drives the Last Spike of the CPR, 1885
Edward Mallandaine, later of Creston, is the young lad behind him

That brings us to Creston. Today, the change between Pacific Standard Time and Mountain Standard Time happens in the Crows Nest Pass, but when the CPR built through the Creston Valley in 1898, the train tracks ended at Kootenay Lake, so Creston, and every other community in the  East Kootenay, were included in the Calgary  (i.e., Mountain) division of the CPR. That put us on Mountain Time, and that’s where stayed for the next two decades.

In October 1916, the CPR decided to switch us over to the  Pacific division, and there was a large headline—as well as a fair bit of grumbling—in the newspaper about Creston’s time going back one hour. So now we were on Pacific Time.

Daylight Saving Time was first implemented during the First World War; Canada adopted it on April 14, 1918.  Sirdar was one of the first communities in the valley to move its clocks ahead. Cranbrook also fell in with “the daylight saving scheme” as it was termed in the newspapers, but Creston did not. The Creston Review of April 26, 1918 reported, “The post office department has advised Creston to stay with CPR time, so there will be no change here to fall in with the daylight saving scheme just inaugurated.” So, for a brief period, Cranbrook was on Mountain Time, Creston on Pacific, Sirdar on Mountain, and all points west that followed the CPR’s lead were on Pacific Time.

That must have been fun.

In June, 1918, though, the CPR released an updated time schedule. Unfortunately, the June 1918 newspapers never made it into the Museum’s collection, so we can’t see exactly what went on. However, it looks like the CPR did adopt DST when it issued that new schedule, and that Creston followed suit. The November 1, 1918 issue of the Creston Review states, “Sunday the CPR went back to the old system of time and the east bound now arrives here at 1.25 and the west bound 4.07 pm town time. The daylight saving scheme was dropped all over Canada at the same time,” but the reference to “town time” tells us that it was not dropped in Creston.

In June of 1919, the CPR again went on daylight saving time, and back to Pacific Standard Time in October that year. Creston stayed right where it was (as did the rest of the East Kootenay, at least for a while). Technically, we went onto Pacific DST in June 1918 and never went off of it, but it’s a little easier to think of it as being on Mountain Standard Time all year round, which is how we look at it today.

That change in June 1918 was the first and only time, that I could find, that Creston paid any attention to daylight saving time. Granted, I didn’t read every word in every newspaper since then, but it’s a logical conclusion that Creston didn’t change time in the intervening years. On January 26, 1942, the federal government issued an Order in Council making DST mandatory for all communities in Canada. The Creston Review reported:

“Commencing last Monday morning Creston time and CPR time became unified for the first time in years, due to the new ‘War Time’ becoming effective on that date.

“This section is currently back on Pacific time instead of Mountain time as formerly and for travellers by rail it is important to remember that the following is the schedule of passenger trains…..

“The village council advised that Creston is at present on fast time [daylight saving time] and that the clocks will not change.”

Two things are clear from this. First, Creston had been on Mountain Time for years, despite what the CPR did (CPR time = Pacific Standard Time). Secondly, even though the change to DST was legislated, Creston didn’t change its clocks – we simply said “Hey, we’re already on DST,” and let everybody else catch up.

The DST Order in Council was revoked on September 30, 1945. The CPR went back to Pacific Standard Time, and Creston didn’t. This time, though, there was a little bit of confusion, as the Review reported on October 5:

“The Review was the centre of many queries last Saturday as to whether this locality set its clock back an hour to conform with Pacific time, or whether the clocks remain unchanged.

“Creston has always been in a peculiar situation in this regard. Previous to the war, Creston was on Mountain Standard time, which meant that our time and the time of Calgary correspond. Rykerts, seven miles south on the international boundary was on Pacific time.

“The time change between Pacific and Mountain, if the time meridians were kept, is the Crows Nest Pass, but as mentioned before the Kootenay Lake, previous to the war, was the line of time change.

“However, most of Creston left the clocks unchanged over last weekend, which now places us on Mountain standard time.

Kootenay Lake ferry Schedule, 1962

“In answer to many, the local town council, it is reported, have no jurisdiction concerning what Creston time will be, for they only have the jurisdiction to rule on civic matters and not those of all valley points.”

Once again, Creston just left its clocks alone, and that seems to have continued for years afterwards. Periodic bus, train, and ferry schedules clearly distinguish between Pacific or CPR Time and Mountain or “Town” Time. It also looks like Rykerts was now on Mountain Time with the rest of the Creston Valley.

In 1952, there was a province-wide plebsicite, held in conjunction with the provincial elections, that asked, “Are you in favour of daylight saving time?” One would think, given the heated debate that such a question would trigger today, that this would be an ideal time to find out why Creston doesn’t change its time. But, if there was a debate, it didn’t hit the newspapers. There is not a single word about the plebiscite in the Creston Review – no ads announcing the vote, no letters to the editor extolling this point of view or that one. Not even the results. Like I say, we’re making much more of the question now than ever before.

Provincially, the referendum passed, so things pretty much stayed the way they were – BC as a whole would observe DST, but the individual communities could choose to conform or not. Creston chose not.

To be continued tomorrow!