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Remembering the start of daylight saving in the NWT


While Northwest Territories residents debate whether to do away with seasonal time changes, one man is remembering his father’s role in introducing the practice to the territory.

Robert Slaven, who lived in Yellowknife until 2001, said his family moved from Ottawa to the North in 1971 when his father, James “Jim” Slaven, took a job as public trustee at the NWT Department of Justice. 

Robert said his father, a lawyer, was hired to help write legislation and regulations for the territory.

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“It was dad’s job to draft regulations to enable daylight savings time in the Northwest Territories,” he said. “He was the person who actually wrote the words that were the regulations that enable daylight savings time.”

James Slaven went on to become Chief Judge of the NWT Territorial Court. Robert said his father passed away from cancer in 1993. He would have celebrated his 94th birthday on May 3. 

According to an article in the April 18, 1972 edition of the Whitehorse Star, the NWT began using daylight saving time that week.

The territory did so to remain in sync with Alberta, which adopted the practice province-wide following a plebiscite in 1971. Across the territory, only Coral Harbour (in what is now Nunavut) did not change its clocks, so residents would be on the same time as what was then known as the Keewatin region. 

An article published in the Whitehorse Star on April 18, 1972 announces daylight saving time in the NWT.
A map from the Prince of Wales Heritage Northern Centre shows the administrative regions of the NWT in 1995.

Much like today, however, not everyone in the North was convinced time changes to save energy and make better use of daylight hours were needed.

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Several articles published by the Whitehorse Star at the time noted daylight saving would have little effect in a region mostly dark during the winter and bright during the summer.  

Slaven said his father spoke to people in Inuvik who shared the same sentiment.

“He knew that people were saying, ‘The sun is up for six weeks in June and July here, what the bleep do we need daylight savings time for here?'”

There were also mixed feelings about the practice farther south. 

Residents in Alberta initially voted against adopting daylight saving time during a plebiscite in 1967. The concept was particularly unpopular among farmers, who wrote to newspapers voicing their concern that it would interfere with milking and feeding schedules. Owners of drive-in theatres were also against the idea, fearing it would hurt business.  

An article published in the Calgary Herald on August 9, 1971.

But activists like Bill Creighten, who formed the Yes for Daylight Saving Society in 1967, championed the concept in the province. He argued ahead of the 1971 plebiscite that daylight saving would benefit sports organizations and office workers, improve safety, and reduce electricity costs.  

Daylight savings across Canada 

While Germany and Austria were the first countries to use daylight saving time in 1916, Port Arthur and Fort William in Ontario – now Thunder Bay – became the first municipalities to do so in 1908. Some other Canadian cities soon followed suit. 

The federal government formally introduced daylight saving time Canada-wide in 1918 to increase production during the First World War. While the time change ended with the war, the practice resumed during the Second World War. 

It is now up to each municipality, province and territory in Canada to determine use of daylight savings.

Areas that don’t change their clocks twice a year include Saskatchewan, which remains on Central Standard Time year round, and small pockets of BC and Ontario.

Following a public survey, the Yukon adopted permanent daylight saving time, eliminating seasonal time changes, and introduced Yukon Standard Time in late 2020.

Ontario passed legislation in November 2020 to make daylight saving time permanent. But the province only plans to enact that change if both New York and Quebec also ditch seasonal time changes. 

Albertans voted to keep the twice-a-year time change by a narrow margin during a referendum in October 2021.

The NWT is currently surveying residents on whether to keep daylight saving time as it is, adopt permanent mountain daylight saving time, or move to permanent mountain standard time. 

Despite his father’s role in implementing daylight saving in the NWT, Slaven said he supports changing the practice. 

“I definitely like the idea to change,” he said. “I can see why they did it back 100 years ago, but now? No, we don’t need it. Forget it.”

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