In 1884, settler Sam Greer sent a hand-drawn map and land claim letter to William Smithe, chief commissioner of Lands and Works, claiming to have purchased 20 acres at present-day Kitsilano Beach “from four Indians” for $200.
This Canada Day—more than 130 years after Greer was involved in an “ugly dispute” over land on the coast of English Bay on Vancouver’s west side—the documents brought more than five times their pre-sale estimate of $5,000. It sold for $33,000 to a local collector with an interest in Vancouver history according to auctioneer Brian Grant Duff, owner and auctioneer of the the Vancouver-based All Nations Stamp and Coin.
“It was desirable because the map was drawn by Greer himself as part of his land claim,” said Duff, who added the estimate was “conservative.”
“We sold previous Greer letters from the Wellburn Collection for between $4,000 and $17,000,” he said, adding the first map sold for $24,200. “So $5,000 was a safe number to show it was a serious item while still encouraging bidding. This material seldom comes to market and generally goes into museum collections, so it is tough to estimate.”
Granville 15th Dec 1884
To the Hon W Smithe Chief Commissioner Land Works,
I beg to inform you that In the month of June 1884 I bought
all the Right Title and Interest through Mr. Mc tiernan Indian Agent
Belonging To four Indians Known as the Indian Settlement Near
falce Creek the Improvements on the Settlement Constists of Seven
houses Orchards fencing Cultivation abought 20 acres have
expended abought Two thousand Dollars In Improving
and Clearing the place. those Indians were in possessary
and Continuous Occupation from the time of Crown Colony
To the present time. In Addition to this 160 acres was prempted
and applied for to you by J.M. Spinks In equal partnership
with Myself your Official Answer was that the land would
Soon be open for premption and purchase but was of other
Value at present. I have the first application to the local Gov
when Port Moody was the Declared terminus of the Pacific
Railway I have Improved this land In good faith believing
It to Myne
the following is My Clame to this land in question
first) that I bought the land and Improvements from British Subjects
being In Possessory and Continued Occupation for 20 years and
under the protection of the Dominion of Canada and Disposed
of through there Agent.
Second) that accordant to the land act No other person Can prempt or
occupy a Indian Settlement by Lease or other Incumberances
without first making provision and other Renumerations for the
3) that should the fee Simple remain Vested In the Crown they
have No Disposing Power over the land, without first
Respecting My first rights No other person have equal rights
4) that the land In question is well adapted for farming purposes
being of first Class quality I am no speculator
In order you May fully understand the position and
Nature of Improvements I give you a Sketch on Back
Indian Improvements and names of Indians
Sign Indian Charly
SAM ‘GRITTY’ GREER
In 1862, Greer pre-empted 65 hectares of land 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.
Other highlights of All Nations Canada 150 sale included Lot 82, an August 1918 Toronto-to-Ottawa flight cover franked on the back by a 25-cent Aero Club of Canada stamp (Scott #CLP1) and on the front by a 1916 War Tax stamp (SC #MR4), which is cancelled by a Toronto circular date stamp as well as an “aerial mail” cancellation.
The cover brought $1,625 after a pre-sale estimate of $750.
“It is essentially the first Canadian Semi Official airmail item and attracts interest from historic aviation collectors and airmail specialists,” said Duff, who added there’s a “strong selection of Semi Official airmails, and Zeppelin flight material in All Nations’ upcoming and current auctions as the auction house disperses a “lifetime collection.”
For more information, visit allnationsstampandcoin.com/auction.html.