OUR HISTORY: Daylight Savings & Lethbridge

Daylight Savings and Lethbridge

If you had to vote between fast time and slow time, how would you vote? The people of Lethbridge were asked that question in May 1919.

Before you choose your answer, it may help to know that what they called fast time is today known as daylight saving time, and twice a year it is still a subject for debate among many people in Lethbridge (and beyond). For most of us, whether we love daylight saving time or not, it’s a philosophical debate as it’s outside our hands whether it continues or not. But in 1919, the residents of Lethbridge actually had the power to decide whether to keep or discontinue daylight saving time in our city.

Daylight saving time was introduced across Canada in the summer of 1918 as a war measure passed by the federal government. The practice met with considerable opposition, especially among farmers, and the Daylight Saving Act expired at the end of the year. So it was then up to each municipal government across Canada to decide whether or not to continue with daylight saving or not.

Lethbridge’s sporting community came out strongly in support of fast time, as they believed it would give them extra time to hit the fields and links. The business community seemed divided on the subject and it was estimated that at least 50 per cent of Lethbridge merchants were for daylight saving time. Those who worked for or closely with the Canadian Pacific Railway supported fast time as the company had adapted their train schedules to that system. Others noted that no other city west of Winnipeg had adopted fast time and so Lethbridge would be out of step with other municipalities if it did. Labourers, such as teamsters, pointed out they were already getting up early and were against getting up even earlier in the day.

With the city and even City Commissioners divided on the issue, it was decided that a plebiscite was the way to go and one was scheduled for May 5, 1919. Mayor Hardie and the other city commissioners wanted to be certain of the will of the people and decided that a simple majority wasn’t sufficient for this plebiscite. City Council determined that a two-thirds majority would be necessary for Lethbridge to continue with daylight saving.

So on that Monday in May 1919, the following question was placed before the residents of Lethbridge:

“Are you in favor of the city of Lethbridge adopting daylight saving time, i.e. advancing the present city time (winter time) one hour to conform with the Canadian Pacific Railway Company’s time?”, with the ballots to be marked ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’

Fast time was defeated by a majority of Lethbridge voters. But the response to the question showed a decided difference in opinion between north and south Lethbridge. In south Lethbridge, the vote was essentially tied with 190 voting for daylight saving and 193 against. In north Lethbridge, though, only 48 voters were for the question and 123 in opposition.

For a short time, things were a little chaotic in Lethbridge as some firms continued working that summer on fast time hours while others went back to standard. Eventually, Lethbridge settled back into standard time for the next couple of decades until daylight saving time made its ultimate return.

But I’m curious, how would you have voted in 1919? How would you vote today if the same question were asked in a plebiscite? And who wishes this decision could still be made at the municipal level?

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