Looking west – that hill cuts an hour off an hour of direct sunlight every fall

There’s a significant date that is fast approaching. No, I’m not talking about the election on Oct. 21, though that is an important date. A week or so later though, on Nov. 3, we’ll face the annual chore of adjusting to Standard Time.

That inevitably causes a return to the discussion of why we continue to do this, and whether or not we should stop doing it. Here in the Yukon, setting our clocks back one hour is probably the most annoying part of the exercise. With wall clocks, it’s just a matter of turning the hands backwards. Analog watches are pretty easy to deal with in the same way, but it seems that every brand of digital watch has a different set of buttons that you have to push in a different set of sequences in order to get the desired result.

Analog clocks are easy to adjust

Then there are all the appliances that have clocks as part of their make-up these days: stoves, microwaves, televisions and all of their accessories. I usually forget the date/time stamp on my cameras. If you’re like me, you probably make most of these alterations before you go to bed on the night before the change. All of your digital devices do it by themselves at 2 a.m. 

You probably noticed, when the British Columbia Premier, John Horgan, visited here recently, he raised the issue of ceasing this semi-annual ritual. He’s suggesting that British Columbia might go to permanent Daylight Savings Time, instead of going back and forth. He also mentioned that he’d like to see all of the west coast states, provinces and territories make the same move, in order to coordinate businesses and activities along the same longitude. This of course, is why we started to follow B.C. time in the first place.

This same discussion has popped up in the Alberta legislature as well, no matter which party is in power. A good chunk of Saskatchewan already doesn’t bother to change from Central Standard Time. Given that Daylight Savings Time tends to provide more light in the evenings, I can see why provinces Outside might prefer that option. When I was discussing it on Facebook however, some farmers objected to that idea and said they would rather be on Standard Time for the sake of their animals.

Of course, someone reminded me that here in the Yukon we are actually on double Daylight Savings Time in the summer. That’s been the case since 1973, when Dawson City and Old Crow finally made the switch that everyone else in the Yukon had made to Pacific Standard Time in 1966.

In the central Yukon, changing the clocks doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. We tend to gain or lose about six minutes a day at the extreme ends of the cycle, so it only makes a noticeable difference for seven to 10 days. Where I live, on 7th Avenue in Dawson City, there’s a far more significant change that happens as the sun’s arc moves steadily to the southeast around this time of year. Looking west across the Yukon River, there are two hills with a bit of a dip between. The one to the south is taller, and as long as the sun’s arc is high enough for it to clear that hill, it also shines clearly from the valley between the hills, and over the second hill, which is shorter.

Just during the last week or so, the sun’s path has become shallow enough, and the time it takes to get past that first hill long enough, that that is effectively when it disappears. We still have our long twilight after that, but direct sunlight is gone.

So, from my point of view, the difference is mainly one about whether we have to change our clocks or not. “Falling back” in November is a lot less of a nuisance than the “spring ahead” will be in early March.