Time Lord: The Remarkable Canadian Who Missed His Train, and Changed the World


256 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-676-97252-7
DDC 389.17'09




Reviewed by William A. Waiser

William A. Waiser is a professor of history at the University of
Saskatchewan. He is the author of Saskatchewan’s Playground: A History
of Prince Albert National Park and Park Prisoners: The Untold Story of
Western Canada’s National Parks, 1915–1946


Time Lord is based on a simple premise: how Canadian civil engineer
Sandford Fleming (1827–1915) missed his scheduled train in Ireland in
July 1876 because of confusion over the local time and then set about to
ensure that it never happened again. But it’s how this story is so
engagingly told by Clark Blaise that makes the book such a fine read.

Up until the late 19th century, time was based on solar noon—when the
sun was directly overhead. It was a simple, convenient way to keep local
time, and it worked as long as people lived in the same area for most
their lives or traveled slowly between places. But the advent of
technology in the mid-19th century, in the form of steam transportation,
and the consequent shrinking of distance made the old way of
time-reckoning obsolete. It made no sense, for example, for Toronto and
Hamilton to have different local times when travel time between them was
significantly reduced by train transportation.

Blaise examines how Fleming, a Scottish émigré, attempted to resolve
the problem by introducing the concept of time zones. The idea, first
introduced at a Canadian Institute meeting in 1876, was not warmly
received. But Fleming persisted and got world standard time adopted at
the Prime Meridian conference in Washington in 1884.

Time Lord is an engaging book that is as much about Victorian society
as it is about standard time. It also deals with the concepts of space
and distance and how the world was irrevocably changed by technology.
Above all, the story gives Fleming the recognition he richly deserves as
perhaps the greatest scientist of 19th-century Canada.


Blaise, Clark., “Time Lord: The Remarkable Canadian Who Missed His Train, and Changed the World,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 17, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/7088.