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William Black Kyle

February 12, 2014

A pioneer steamboat owner and business partner of Howard Tilton at New Westminster, William Black Kyle was born in Montreal, November 14, 1847.  His parents were Thomas and Helen (Findlay ) Kyle, immigrants from Scotland.  His father died in 1850; his mother lived until 1906.

William B Kyle  came out to the west coast in the early ’70s, arriving at Stillaguamish on Puget Sound where brother George Findlay Kyle was a sloop trader, bringing in supplies for settlers on the flats at the river’s mouth.  George Kyle established a general store and was Postmaster at Centerville.   William Kyle purchased land there,  but did not stay long.

By 1875 WB Kyle was living at Yale BC, in business as an accountant, where he remained on the voters list for the next few years.  Plummer's Fruit Dryer

In December 1877 he advertised in a Vancouver Island newspaper, the Colonist, a franchising opportunity for the Plummer’s Fruit Dryer and Preserver, with an offer to meet interested parties in Victoria.  The Snohomish Star reported that WB Kyle had acquired the Canadian rights to the preserving system.  Plummer’s dryer was a big hit at the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia in 1876, and this could be where Kyle became acquainted with the device.  His brother and sister were reported to have attended.

By 1880, WB Kyle was in New Westminster employed as Agent for the Pioneer Line of Fraser River Steamers at New Westminster. Kyle handled bills and accounts under the management of John Irving.  However, it is unlikely Kyle’s sole interest in the company was a weekly wage.

1882 dir Pioneer Line of Steamers - Irving   WB Kyle Agent - Pioneer Line Steamers - John Irving mgr  

Kyle settled into life in the Fraser River port and was an elected officer in both the AOUW and the IOOF.  On January 11, 1881 WB Kyle was married to Sarah Murray, daughter of John Murray, one of the original Royal Engineers who settled in New Westminster, and sister of Hugh Murray, later of Brownsville.

Sarah Murray was born at Sapperton on August 5, 1861 and it was there she was married to William Kyle, at St Mary’s chapel (Church of England).  A son, William Herbert Kyle was born in 1881 and a daughter Mabel Jean in 1883.

In the early 1880’s cutthroat competition between steamboats on Fraser River and Strait runs placed intense financial pressure on their owners, some of whom had to relinquish control to creditors.  There was more at stake than which boat offered the cheapest foot-passenger fair to Yale.  Merchants were very dependent on the reliability of freight service and stable rates, and had either built their own boats, or invested in others.

steamer Western SlopeWhen the steamer Western Slope was put up for auction, in the first week of January1883,  the highest bidder was Mr EG Tilton, a Victoria merchant.

It was reported the true owner was John Irving, but it would appear Irving, while a driving force in the steamer business, was less a proprietor and more the public face of a number of silent partners.

Within days of Tilton’s winning bid for the Western Slope, the Pioneer Line merged with some other steamboat companies, notably the Hudson Bay Company steamers, to form the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company.  It was a complicated deal, with the owners of a number of vessels transferring ownership to the company.

William Black Kyle  was identified as the "registered owner" of the sternwheelers Western Slope, RP Rithet and William Irving. He gave up these boats in exchange for shares in the new company, and cash.

steamer RP Rithet opposite New WestminsterAfter the merger, Kyle carried on as Agent for the new CPNCo until June, when he resigned to enter into a partnership with Howard Tilton,  brother of EG Tilton, establishing the wholesale enterprise Kyle & Tilton on Front Street, New Westminster.

Kyle’s retirement from the CPNCo was noted in the press with the compliment: "His departure will be regretted by all here who have the pleasure of his acquaintance."

A second son, Arthur Black Kyle was born in 1884.

By 1887 Kyle & Tilton had dissolved their partnership and moved on to other opportunities.  Howard Tilton moved to Victoria and started his own business there.
WB Kyle and family moved to the States, where a daughter, Violet, was born in 1890 at Moscow, Idaho.

Kyle gravestoneWilliam Black Kyle died February 22, 1892, reportedly at Moscow, Idaho. We have missed notice of his passing in the local press, but he was interred in Vancouver, where his gravestone stands.

Sarah Kyle returned to BC, residing in  Vancouver until her death on May 5, 1934.

Mrs Kyle’s status as a pioneer daughter in the province resulted in her death getting wide notice in the newspapers.

She was the first of ex-Sapper John Murray’s children to be born in BC.

Hugh Murray, who resided at Brownsville until his death, was the eldest of the Murray children, born in Southampton, England.  John Murray,Jr was born on the Thames City en route to BC.  Born in BC were Sarah, brothers William and Henry and sisters Mary Jane and Annie.

John Murray was one of the first to invest at Port Moody when it was to be the terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway on the west coast.  With responsibility for naming streets in the townsite,  some are named after members of his family, including Sarah Street.
Kyle Street in Port Moody was named after William Black Kyle.

Family history sources for this information were the Lauder – Kyle family tree at and Port Hope Ontario A Living Past.

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