Did you know there was a shooting between pioneer Samuel Greer and Deputy Sheriff Tom Armstrong over the ownership of Kitsilano Beach? This was in September 1891 – the culmination of long “war” between the little guy, Mr. Greer, and the big boys, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CPR). Both claimed the same land.
Laura Ishiguro, UBC History Department, gave an interesting talk at the Vancouver Historical Society on March 28th which explained all about this man and his battle. The Greer family lived in a small house on his beach, now called Kitsilano. The “war” consisted of using the law, provincial investigations, newspaper editorials and industrial sabotage.
Sam Greer bought 200 acres in 1884 from four natives, who had been living on this land, through a local Indian agent named McTiernan. Greer filed a claim with the province and a map was drawn to show where his land was located: roughly between Balsam and Chestnut streets and from the water to West Fourth Avenue. The map was drawn 16 months before the City of Vancouver was incorporated and all of Kitsilano would have been forest at the time. He built his house, planted fruit trees and it became known as Greer’s Beach.
To most of you who remember our BC history, the CPR built the railway across Canada in exchange for land grants. The BC government gave 6,000 acres to the CPR, including Sam Greer’s land. And he fought back. McTiernan denied he helped in the sale of the land from the natives and stated his signature was forged. Sam was charged with forgery, tried and acquitted. A BC government committee recommended the government give him a Crown grant covering his claim. But since the government had already granted the land to the CPR, it did not give it to Sam.
The battle continued. Sam had tried legal means to retain his property, and then moved to other methods. He tore up rail lines the CPR laid through his property. The CPR retaliated by twice tearing his house down when he was away. On Sept. 26, 1891 the CPR asked the police to evict him. But Sam locked himself in his house. The Deputy Sheriff, Mr. Armstrong, announced he had a writ to serve on him and Sam responded by firing a shot which struck Mr. Armstrong.
The Vancouver World newspaper described the scene in glorious detail, as only a local newspaper could in siding with the “oppressed” citizen against the “big bad” government and corporations. Doesn’t that sound familiar to current events!
He was charged with attempted murder, convicted of assault causing bodily harm on Nov. 16, 1891, and sentenced to 27 months of hard labour in the BC Penitentiary.
Greer’s Beach was a popular camping spot in the 1890’s and Sam was a popular figure in Vancouver. He had enough public support to be released from his prison sentence after a couple of months. He continued his fight for his land claim until he died on April 6, 1925.
Our hero’s name is remembered in Greer Street in Kits Point, Sam Greer Place Housing Cooperative (West 1st and Maple St.) and Greer’s Beach Draft Beer at Vera’s Taco Shack on Cornwall.
Last modified: April 13, 2019