The contributions to education and civic leadership made by the longest-serving chair of the Saskatoon Board of Education were recognized Sept. 20, 2016, with the dedication of the W.B. Doyle Board Room at Saskatoon Public Schools' downtown office.
The decision to dedicate the board room in Doyle's name came in response to the work done by Saskatoon residents Tim Hutchinson and Lorraine Salt. They rediscovered Doyle's story while doing research on their house on 11th Street, which was once owned by Doyle, and brought his contributions to the attention of the Board of Education.
"This is partly the story of rediscovering the longest-serving school board chair in Saskatoon history," Hutchinson told the board "I think it is fair to say that we don't remember Doyle's name since a school was never named for him. The first naming of a school for a trustee actually happened in 1951 -- that was Brunskill School.
"The naming of the board room for Doyle is indeed a fitting tribute. His impact on the school system would have been largely achieved through the board room over which he presided for two decades. And although Doyle's board room is obviously in a different building than where we are now, I want to point out that he would have been quite familiar with the board's new home. The Eaton's department store (the building which now houses the Saskatoon Board of Education) opened for business in 1928, about halfway through his tenure, and the school board office during Doyle's tenure was actually just down the street at the corner of 21st Street and Fourth Avenue."
William Benjamin Doyle was born in Manchester, England, in 1875 and came to Canada in 1903. He moved to Saskatoon with wife Laura and son Arthur in 1914. He was the manager of a wholesale coal company before opening his own firm under the name W.B. Doyle Ltd.
"He would spend his whole career in the wholesale coal business but it was as school board chair that he made his mark," Salt explained. "First elected to the public school board in 1920, he became chairman in 1921 and he would serve that role until 1940, a full 20 years."
At that time, school trustees were elected to one-year terms that ran from January to December.
Doyle led the board during the tumultuous years of the 1920s and through the Great Depression of the 1930s, a period that placed significant strain on the school division's operations. When teachers had to accept salary holdbacks due to the slow rate of tax collections during the Depression, Doyle felt so personally responsible that he stood before the school division's assembled teaching staff to break the news in person and then wept following the announcement.
Doyle's sudden passing in 1942 resulted in tributes from school board and civic leaders lauding his "outstanding personality" and "sound judgement" and his death received newspaper coverage befitting his contributions as a community leader. Schools were dismissed early on the day of his funeral so teachers could attend.
William Brunskill, who served with Doyle starting in 1923 and was later board chair, noted that the excellent financial condition of the public school district was largely due to Doyle's ability and good judgement and he could have gone much farther in public life.
"Few citizens, indeed," Saskatoon Mayor Stephen MacEachern said upon Doyle's passing, "have made as great a contribution to the life of this city as has the late Mr. Doyle. Because of his wise administration, the board weathered the storms of the depression better, perhaps, than any other municipal institution in the West."