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Sir Sandford Fleming



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A part of our heritage...


The Nineteenth Century was the Age of Steam, an era when technical innovators like Sandford Fleming transformed the face of the industrial world and took on the stature of national heroes. This Historica Minute captures the energy and spirit of the dynamic chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway who surveyed the first rail route across Canada, designed our first postage stamp, and successfully championed the Trans-Pacific telegraph cable which was laid from Vancouver to Australia. Fleming also achieved lasting international fame as the "Father of Standard Time." Before Sandford Fleming invented Standard Time, 12 p.m. in Kingston was twelve minutes later than 12 p.m. in Montréal and thirteen minutes before 12 p.m. in Toronto. Noon was the time when the sun stood exactly overhead. This was the way clocks were set all over the world. In the old days, locally-based time made sense to everyone, but with the introduction of railways, it became highly inconvenient and inefficient. Imagine traveling across the country by train. At every stop along the way, you would have to reset your time piece by the local clocks. Travelers sometimes carried a number of watches, or one with six different faces, each labeled with the name of a different city. It was also a nightmare for railway station-masters, who could not deal with train schedules based on local time. The result was chaos for a transcontinental railway.

For Sandford Fleming the solution to this problem was a universal system of time, that would not only work for Halifax and Victoria, but for Paris and New Delhi as well. He devised a world map divided into 24 Time Zones. Within each zone the clocks would indicate the same time, with a one hour difference between adjoining zones.

Fleming's idea was simple, straightforward, and practical, but it was new, and therefore difficult for people to accept. For years it was dismissed by governments and rejected by scientific societies. Fleming was even called a Communist for his "internationalist" notions, and reviled by some who believed that such interference with the nature of time was contrary to the will of God.

Fleming, however, was persistent and very persuasive in promoting his idea. Eventually he won official approval at the International Prime Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C., and Standard Time went into effect on January 1, 1885. It was a glorious achievement. Without Standard Time, modern life as we know it today would be an impossiblity.

Heritage Minute Cast
Fleming William Samples
Roberts Peter Kelamis
Assistant Shawn MacDonald
Otto Ivan Horsky
Executive John Destry
Executive Hagon Beggs
Distinguished Gentleman Cam Lane
Engineers Norman Armour
Engineers Doug Cameron