Auction review: 1884 letter highlights recent All Nations sale

Another piece of the Gerald Wellburn Historic Vancouver Collection recently brought big money at an auction in British Columbia.

On April 22, the Vancouver-based All Nations Stamp and Coin hosted its weekly auction, which was highlighted by an 1884 letter sent by settler Samuel Greer and witnessed by Matthew Baillie Begbie, then chief justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

According to Brian Grant Duff, auctioneer and owner of All Nations, the letter was written on Granville Hotel letterhead. The Granville Hotel was operated by Joseph Mannion, “the defacto Mayor of early Vancouver,” who opened the hotel in direct competition with Gassy Jack’s hotel.

As noted by Wellburn, this decade was a time of “commercial expansion” in Vancouver.

Bidding for Lot 72 of All Nations’ Large Lot and Collections Auction #1105 opened at $3,600; however, with seven bidders vying for ownership of the 133-year-old letter, the lot eventually crossed the block for $17,000.

Duff also noted the letter survived the Great Vancouver Fire, which destroyed most of the young city on June 13, 1886.

GREER LETTER TRANSCRIPT

Mr J M Spinks

July 2nd 1884

My Dear
     Sir I got your letter
     To day with Cheque I am going
     to put on Some Chinamen to Clear on the Beach to
     Keep every person off
     I was offered $500 for my
     Bargain but Indian Agent McTiernan
     helped me out. This is the best
     property on the Bay I got $75
     from Henderson to help
     me on the Bill of Sale. It is through
     Mr. McTiernan I got the land I had no
     Dealing with the Indians it is Signed and
     Sealed In your Name Drawed up
     by Howse & Rickman by a Lawyer
     20 Men has asked me for a Intrest
     this is good property Come over at once

Yours truly S. Greer

The letter, which survived the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886, was signed by Greer in 1884.

SAM ‘GRITTY’ GREER

In 1862, Greer pre-empted 65 hectares of land on Vancouver’s west side, along the southern shore of English Bay.

Greer Beach—later renamed Kitsilano Beach—was where Greer, an Irish-born immigrant and father of six, wished to build a family farm; however, in 1884, the Canadian Pacific Railway claimed the land was ceded to the company by the Crown.

In a story published in 2011 by the Vancouver Province, Greer is described as a father as well as a pioneer and a “hothead” who eventually spent time in prison for shooting a sheriff.

“According to his daughter, Jessie Greer, Sam shot cougars and wolves from his back door and used a boat to gather smelts so thick they could be ‘picked up with a garden rake,'” reads the story.

“The dispute was ugly. Greer fought back by taking down telegraph wires and filling in holes while railway workers were still digging them. Things came to a head when New Westminster sheriff Thomas Armstrong appeared at his home and was greeted by a hail of buckshot coming through the front door.”

Greer was eventually convicted for his role in the shooting and spent time in prison. His farm was razed, his land was expropriated by the Crown, and his beach was given a new name.

Greer died in 1925. Today, Greer Avenue in Kitsilano is named in his honour.

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