All in good time!



History credits the Canadian Sandford Fleming (1827-1915) with the invention of our current system of time zones. He was instrumental in the organization of the International Meridian Conference in Washington D.C. in October 1884, during which the world was divided into 24 time zones linked to the Greenwich Meridian. In practice, however, things did not go so smoothly.

In the United States, some Protestants perceived the adoption of Standard Time as a distancing from God.

Jarrett Rudy, research professor of history at McGill University, studied the implementation of standard time in Québec, a valuable demonstration of the process of modernization. The adoption of Standard Time clearly marks the transition into the modern age, when time was no longer ordained by nature – and thus by God – but by human institutions. Naturally, this change was not to everybody's liking. Jarrett Rudy's work shows that in the United States, some Protestants perceived the adoption of Standard Time as a distancing from God, while in Québec, the Catholic Church was more pragmatic: they did not oppose the system, but used it only occasionally.

As for the citizens, many did not see the advantage of using Standard Time. The evolution of industrial infrastructures proved to be the best promoter of Standard Time: Standard Time made it possible to synchronise train departures and arrivals, and the farmer who wanted to transport his milk by the "milk train" had to be at the station at the right time.

This research shows that the process of modernity is a slow and tortuous one. Jarrett Rudy has published an article on the subject in the Canadian Historical Review and has spoken at many conferences, including the Biennial Conference of the American Council for Québec Studies, the annual meeting of the Institut d'histoire de l'Amérique française (IHAF) and the annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association.