Public Works and Government Services Canada

Public Works and Government Services Canada

March 08, 2007 17:42 ET

A Public Works Engineer is the "Father of Standard Time"

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - March 8, 2007) - Time zones are a Canadian idea invented by a Public Works engineer, Sir Sanford Fleming, the "Father of Standard Time."

This year the switch to Daylight Saving Time begins a full three weeks ahead of its normal schedule and ends an extra seven days later than usual - from March 11 to November 4.

Sir Sandford Fleming, born in Scotland, January 7, 1827, came to Canada as a 17-year-old surveyor. Fleming, Chief Engineer for Public Works from 1867 to 1880, played an important role in the new nation's development.

Fleming surveyed and mapped much of Canada, most notably from Ottawa all the way west to the Pacific for the construction of the Canada Pacific Railway.

As Chief Engineer for Public Works, Fleming oversaw surveying and construction of the Intercolonial Railway, completed in 1867, which linked the Maritime Provinces with Quebec.

Flemings pioneered innovations in building materials and techniques throughout his career, engineering his structures to last. He built railway bridges out of steel, rather than timber - an advanced technology at the time. He also developed new engineering techniques in soil sampling and pre-stressing of piers.

Steam and electricity, Fleming maintained, were the "twin agencies of civilization." As rail lines extended west, the department of Public Works built telegraph lines and operated telegraph offices in the towns and villages that developed along the route.

Fleming had a vision to connect Canada to the rest of the British Empire. He designed a telegraph communications plan that linked the trans-Canada system by underwater cable across the Pacific to Australia. When he failed to garner the support of private interest, Fleming presented his proposal to Ottawa, persisting until finally an imperial committee was created to oversee the project. A Pacific cable, stretching from Vancouver to New Zealand and Australia, was completed in 1902.

Fleming also achieved worldwide fame as the "Father of Standard Time." Before Fleming invented Standard Time, everyone used locally-based time, which meant that 12 noon in Montreal, when the sun stood exactly overhead, was 12 minutes earlier than 12 noon in Kingston. With railway lines criss-crossing the country, railway stationmasters could not effectively deal with train schedules based on local time. Fleming's brilliant system divided the world into time zones, each exactly one hour apart. Standard Time, which went into effect on January 1, 1885, made it possible to schedule track use and avoid head-on collisions.

Fleming was knighted in 1897 on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. He died in Halifax on July 22, 1915. The energy and vision of this dynamic man and his contribution to Canada is still celebrated today.

Canada's time zones


Canada uses six of the world's 24 time zones. From east to west they are:

Newfoundland Time

Atlantic Time

Eastern Time

Central Time

Mountain Time

Pacific Time

Newfoundland & Labrador is 4 1/2 hours ahead of British Columbia.

The new Daylight Saving Time is prompted by a U.S. energy saving idea. It will be adopted by the United States, Bermuda, and most of Canada.

In Canada, times are regulated by provincial and territorial governments. Saskatchewan does not observe Daylight Saving Time.

Contact Information

  • Public Works and Government Services Canada
    Media Relations
    819-956-2315