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George F Kyle – The Very Model Timekeeper

February 12, 2014

George F Kyle was a trader at Puget Sound in the 1870s,  timekeeper for Andrew Onderdonk on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in British Columbia in 1880, sawmill owner in Vancouver BC, 1886,  mine developer in Alaska,  1888 and builder of the Anacortes Hotel, 1891.

George Findlay Kyle was born in 1842 of Scottish parents who became settlers in Quebec. His father Thomas Kyle died when George was just eight years old, and his mother Helen (Findlay) Kyle later moved to Ontario. By 1861 it appears George was living in Durham County, Ontario, clerk in a store.

Maritime trade  – GF Kyle at Stillaguamish

Centreville - Stillaguamish WA - 1879George Kyle moved to Puget Sound on the west coast in his twenties and settled on the flats at the mouth of the Stillaguamish river about 1868.  He traded supplies by sloop from Seattle and Victoria, established a general store, and along with his brother WB Kyle he bought land in that locality.

George F Kyle  is listed as Postmaster at Centerville, Snohomish County from 1870 to 1873 and during the 1870s served as a County Commissioner.

Kyle is recorded in the 1870 census here as having been born in Nova Scotia, whereas other sources give his birthplace as New York State. Many reports confirm this was the same George Kyle. His parents settled in Quebec, southeast of Montreal.

A report in the local paper reports on his trip back east to the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia in 1876. He visited his hometown in Quebec to visit with his mother, and his sister accompanied him on a trip to Washington DC.

In 1878 it was reported George Kyle had sold his farm.

Keeping Time: GF Kyle and the Canadian Pacific Railway

In 1881 George F Kyle was in the employ of Andrew Onderdonk, contractor for building the Canadian Pacific Railway from the coast to the interior of British Columbia.

Based at Yale BC, Onderdonk’s headquarters in the Fraser Canyon, George Kyle began as timekeeper and assistant to General Superintendent EG Tilton.  CPR personnel 1881Kyle rapidly advanced to greater responsibility. By 1883 he was Master of Transportation for the Onderdonk section of the CPR.

In 1884 Onderdonk was awarded a further contract to continue construction from Savona past Kamloops and through Eagle Pass as far as Griffin Lake, there to meet with eastern parties pushing westward.

Laying track and bossing Morley Roberts – George Kyle at Eagle Pass Landing

By the spring of 1885, action shifted to Eagle Pass Landing, base of operations for the last leg of construction.  George F Kyle was superintending work on the first 19 miles, Eagle Pass Landing to Craigellachie, while James Leamy with pioneer roadbuilder GB Wright would prepare the way to Griffin Lake.

Henry Cambie, who was in these parts overseeing the survey, when asked what kind of men worked on building the railway, responded:

"Outside the Chinese there were very few foreigners in the country. . .and most of the men on the construction work were English-speaking, many of them Englishmen. I was often surprised at the great number among them who were well informed men who had drifted through most parts of the world, many of them highly educated. They were good workmen, too."

It was at the Landing that itinerant traveller Morley Roberts had come looking for work in May 1885.  Roberts had passed this way before, the previous year, on his way west.  With some very hard work on the eastern sections  of construction through Kicking Horse Pass,  and with arduous walking and camping, he had made his way to the lower mainland, where he spent the winter working in a sawmill in New Westminster and reading in the Public Library. 
On his second visit here, Roberts found great changes from last fall when the place was a sleepy town of just a few shacks. Now buildings were going up madly, men and supplies being ferried in daily.

Eagle Pass Landing 1885

Morley Roberts needed work, had passed his last dollar, and he was lucky to catch on with GF Kyle, of whom he wrote:

"My ‘boss’ was one of the best men to work for I ever met, a Mr. G. F. Kyle, a Canadian, who had risen to a good position in Onderdonk’s employ. I never saw any one who had anything to say against him, but, on the contrary, everybody had a good word for him. He was a tall, strong, pleasant and good-featured man, somewhat English-looking, with a sharp eagle eye and that undefinable look about him of a man who knows other men, somewhat similar in appearance and quick, penetrating glance of ‘our only General,’ whom I had often seen in Pall Mall and the War Office when he was Quartermaster-General and I worked as a writer in his department. Mr. Kyle made me work had while there was any necessity for it, but then he worked himself, and was as energetic a ‘rustler’ as British Columbia held." – The Western Avernus

After three months in the employ of George Kyle work ran out and Roberts was let go at the end of the summer, without regret.

Thousands of men working on the great national railway project were turned loose at the end of October 1885.  Onderdonk had run out of rails and could not complete tracklaying to the end of his contract.

The eastern parties pushed on with the iron along James Leamy’s road from Griffin Lake to Craigellachie,  where, at the end of Kyle’s work, the last spike was driven on November 7, 1885.

1885 11 07 last spike cpr craigellachie bc

To the final whistle – Time over on the CPR

George Kyle remained in the employ of the railway at the close of construction. 

1885 12 14 CPR traffic notice - Geo F Kyle




When train service on the trans-continental line began GF Kyle was General Superintendent, in charge of the outfit and traffic management on the western section from Savona to Port Moody.



In 1886, with the line operating satisfactorily, it was the responsibility of George Kyle to turn over the railway to the Dominion Government Agent, Joseph William Trutch.

"Canadian Pacific Railway, Yale, BC, 30th June, 1886.
Sir, — I hereby deliver to you that portion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in British Columbia between Port Moody and Savona’s now under my charge, together with the following described rolling stock, viz: — nine locomotives and one hundred and eighty-five flat cars.
The locomotives consisting of No. 1, Yale; No. 2, Emery; No. 3, New Westminster; No. 4, Savona; No. 5, Lytton; No. 6, Nicola; No. 7, Kamloops; No. 8, Shuswap; No. 9,  Columbia.
I am yours very respectfully,
Geo. F. Kyle.
Hon. J. W. Trutch, Dominion Government Agent."

Kyle’s New Ventures – Mills and Mines

On winding up his railroad work for the Canadian Pacific Railway, GF Kyle established a  mill at Vancouver with James Leamy  — the Leamy & Kyle Saw Mill  and boat building works on the south side of False Creek.

Leamy & Kyle yard on CPR

Kyle was also interested  in Alaskan mining ventures. The Colonist of Victoria reported in November 1886 that "Mr GF Kyle has been appointed manager of the Treadwell mine in Alaska. If the rumour is correct the Treadwell mine is in luck, for Mr Kyle is bound to make it succeed even better than at present. His departure from the province will be deeply regretted."

How much time Kyle devoted to Treadwell is unclear. He was still intimately connected with affairs related to Onderdonk’s contract, and had been invited by Onderdonk to join him on a future project in the southern states.  An Oregon correspondent of the Colonist believed the attraction of working for Onderdonk again would draw experienced men from BC.

"there will be a scattering among the Canadian Pacific railroad men to get into AO’s employment. Every one of the old crowd who can raise the passage money will go. Mr Onderdonk was very liberal with his thousands of men."

George Kyle returned from the east in March 1887 having visited family and friends and allowed that "his is glad once more to be on the Pacific slope."

Kyle attended to his sawmill interests in Vancouver and spent some months at the mine on Douglas Island, Alaska. He donated  a sample of ore from the Treadwell mine to the British Columbia Provincial Museum in Victoria. Kyle was still reported involved with the mine in June 1888. His travels on business took him to San Francisco and cities in the northwest.

Anacortes – Kyle Prospects a City

In 1889 GF Kyle was noticed in New Westminster on business. The nearing completion of several railways in the northwest — including the New Westminster Southern Railway — had drawn Kyle’s attention back to the iron road.

However this time, with a large stake of his own to invest, GF Kyle took a gamble on property development at Anacortes WA, touted to become the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad and, with its advantages of situation, to become the leading seaport city of Puget Sound. 

Kyle was returning to his old home turf, with the flats at the mouth of the Skagit river reminiscent of his days at Stillaguamish, but at Fidalgo Island Kyle’s vision was of a large city.

Anacortes 1890 property saleKyle bided his time, drawing up plans for Anacortes while maintaining his connection with the Leamy & Kyle sawmill  in Vancouver.  In the 1890 Vancouver city directory,  George F Kyle  is listed as a resident of Seattle. In the 1891 directory, George F Kyle of Leamy & Kyle is listed as resident in Anacortes WA.

After two years Kyle believed his foresight about the potential of Anacortes was about to pay off with the completion of railroad connections to the north in Canada via the Fairhaven Southern Railway and the New Westminster Southern Railway,  and to the south and to the east.

In a lengthy interview with the Colonist at Victoria in January 1891, Kyle talked up Anacortes  as a railroad and ocean shipping terminal—

"We think we have the best harbor on the Sound and the most advantageous location. . .on that oceanic trans continental short line from Japan to the Atlantic."

He was proud too of settlement and the natural bounty of the Skagit region –  "the foremost agricultural county in the state." 

Kyle was now director of the National Bank of Anacortes and a proprietor of the lavish new Anacortes Hotel.

Within a few years Anacortes was a bust, all Kyle’s hopes for the prosperity of a large city there fading to nothing and the Hotel Anacortes forced to close.

There is an extensive article on George F Kyle at Anacortes in the Skagit Journal.

Seattle years – little notice

Not much is seen of Kyle in reports of the mid-90s. By now, when he made an appearance in provincial papers, he was identified as a "Seattle businessman."

In 1894 the Leamy & Kyle sawmill and boatbuilding business in Vancouver was reorganized in a merger with George Cassady & Co.

Kyle did make at least one trip  to Alaska in 1898.

George F Kyle died in Seattle on January 5, 1905.  His obituary in the Seattle Star is brief.

"Pioneer Dead – George F Kyle, a pioneer of Puget sound, died yesterday afternoon at the Seattle General hospital from a complication of troubles. Mr Kyle had been in the hospital only a short time. He was 62 years of age at the time of his death. Instructions regarding the funeral are expected today from Mr. Kyle’s sister, who lives in Ontario."

The King County death record gives his age as  73 and the cause of death "asthma," but no other information.

The sister referred to in Ontario is believed to be Jean Craick of Port Hope, Durham Country, Ontario, Canada. Kyle’s mother, Helen Kyle, residing with daughter Jean Craick,outlived her son, dying in 1906, almost 100 years old.

As George Kyle’s place of burial and epitaph are unknown, it is worth recalling what Morley Roberts wrote:  “everybody had a good word for him.”

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