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Remember This?: The story of David Kyle

The steel plant fell silent on the day they laid David Kyle to rest
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2002.9.58
The former David Kyle Public School. Sault Ste. Marie Public Library archive

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

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Remember This . . . The legacy of David Kyle

Many people hope that at the end of their life they will have made a difference in the world around them.  As we look back at the life of David Kyle, we see that, although he had a relatively short life he made a strong impact on his community.  

David Kyle was born on January 25, 1885 in Scotland to John Kyle and Maggie Catherine Gavin.  He arrived in Sault Ste. Marie in 1909 as an engineer in charge of installing new equipment at the steel plant. The administration of the steel plant recognized his outstanding ability and skill and rapidly promoted him to the position of Mechanical Superintendent.  In 1912, he was promoted to General Superintendent of Operations.  When war was declared in 1914, David Kyle stepped away from his career and like so many other young men from across the city, he enlisted in the armed forces. Rising to the rank of Captain he was awarded the Military Cross for bravery.  

He was held in such high esteem by the management of the steel plant that they persuaded the military authorities to agree to release Captain Kyle from his duties in the army in 1917 so that he could return to Sault Ste. Marie and become the General Manager of Algoma Steel Corporation. He continued to excel and in January 1918 he became a Director and Vice President of the company.  Well-liked by the steel plant employees he felt that if the employees were treated fairly then they in turn would not view the “bosses” with mistrust and suspicion and the workplace (and the world) would be a happier place.  

IMG_5562A plaque tells the story of David Kyle. Sault Ste. Marie Public Library archive

In early 1920, David Kyle became ill with influenza which turned into pneumonia. It came as a great shock to the entire community when he died on Feb. 7, 1920.  It was reported that he was just 35 years of age, an age when most people are just beginning to excel in their careers. Having no family in North America, his father, who was in Scotland, sent a cable to the Algoma Steel officials asking that they give him a “suitable burial” here. A military funeral was planned with his remains mounted on a gun carriage and transported to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church for the funeral service. During the service, all of the machinery at the steel plant went silent for ten minutes as both men and machines paid a silent tribute to David Kyle. The pallbearers, Archie Hugill, W.M. Seymour, J. Bell, James Gemmill, L.L. Jacobs and J.W. Wilson represented various departments at the steel plant.  He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery accompanied by a firing party from the Great War Veterans.  

Many of our local citizens received their early education at the school that would bear his name, David Kyle Public School.  This school began as a two-room frame structure that was built in 1903.  Located on Douglas Street, in the Harris and Buckley neighbourhood, it was originally known as the Harris and Buckley School. In 1910, a one room frame annex was added to the site.  Within about 3 to 4 years a four-room brick building was built on the site. When a four room addition was added to the school around 1920, it seemed to be a perfect opportunity for the residents of the area to request that the name of the school be changed to David Kyle Public School as a way to show honour to a man that was well-respected by steel plant employees.  

From 1920 to 1979, this school was the hub of the community. After its closure, the original school building was demolished and the school grounds were turned into David Kyle Park. A memorial to David Kyle, consisting of a plaque mounted on an iron ingot had been built by the steelworkers at Algoma Steel following the death of David Kyle and the memorial was later moved to this site to commemorate this “engineer, executive and humanist . . . a man among men.” 

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Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at www.ssmpl.ca and look for more Remember This? columns here