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Keeping Time With Steamers

March 8, 2015

Today clocks were moved forward one hour to accord with Pacific Daylight Time. In the summer of 1886 clocks here sprang ahead for the first time, but only by a matter of minutes.

At New Westminster the change was noted in the city newspaper.


"The C.P.N.Co. proposes to adopt standard time from this out, and people had better make a note of it. Standard time is railway time, and is 10 minutes faster than New Westminster local time."


The Canadian Pacific Navigation Company — no relation to the railway company — operated steamboats serving Victoria, Burrard Inlet, New Westminster,  and other Fraser River landings as far up as Hope.

Under local time, noon was indicated by the Zenith of the sun.  Thus a boat theoretically departing New Westminster for Hope at 12:00 p.m. Standard Time would now be leaving 10 minutes before the sun reached its Zenith for the day.

If you didn’t care to adjust your watch just to suit the steamers, there would be little danger of "missing the boat."  It was a constant complaint of some of the local citizenry that steamboats announced their pending departure with loud whistles. Others appreciated these wake-up calls in the early morning, giving them time to pull on their pants and get down to the wharf.

Custom House Sundial

The Custom House,  built at  New Westminster in 1859, had a sundial in its front yard by which one could set one’s watch.Custom House and sundial - New Westminster

Watching the Opera – Knevett’s Timely Observation

In 1928,  Edgar Standish de Knevett of  Brussels wrote to The Times of London in response to an article about sundial mottos.


"I copied the following motto from a sundial outside the old Bishop’s Palace at Blois, on the Loire: — "Transit hora, manent opera."

The sundial has a second motto, which I do not think so good: — "Dum tempus hubemus, operemur bonum."


The first motto is translated as "Hours pass, works remain."

Edgar Standish de Knevett was the grandson of Ebenezer Brown, whose daughter Palmyre was married to Joseph Sexton Knevett.   Eugenie Knevett, a sister for Edgar, was born at New Westminster in 1875.

The K de K ferry to Brownsville is said to have been named after JS Knevett, who, in adopting  the older and nobler version of his last name styled himself Joseph Sexton Knevett de Knevett.

Looking forward

We don’t know that there is any solar time-keeper remaining at New Westminster or on the opposite side of the Fraser River. Sundials are attractive and possess considerable historical and educational value.

Check out the Loire Daily Photo blog for a photo of the Bishop’s Palace sundial and translation of the second logo.

You can check out the difference between Solar Noon and the current time at your location using the Solar Calculator.

The Westminster Trust Building, where once Jitney cars came and went on time, occupies the site of the old Custom House on Columbia Street.

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