The Fight for Greer’s Beach
Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach was originally called Greer’s Beach after Sam Greer, a homesteader who set up a seven-acre farm at English Bay in June 1884. When the Canadian Pacific Railway came to town, Greer was one of the numerous “squatters” it had to evict from the 6000 acres the company had been granted as part of the deal to locate its western terminus at Burrard Inlet.
Greer spent years fighting the CPR to keep his land, in court and mano-a-mano. Once he used an axe to chase off the officials who came to evict him and another time he was successfully evicted but managed to get an injunction allowing him to reoccupy the land and have the CPR’s crew and equipment removed. Greer fortified the property with barricades and weapons to prevent CPR construction crews on his property.
The final showdown came in 1891, when the deputy sheriff and a gang of CPR men came to kick Greer and his family out and demolish his home and barn. Greer ran into the house and slammed the door, through which he fired a round of buckshot that wounded the deputy sheriff. A jury found that Greer had discharged his weapon accidentally. However, Judge Begbie browbeat the jury into finding him guilty of assault, and he was sent to prison.
As a final insult, the CPR changed the beach’s name to Kitsilano but left it undeveloped for years. In the meantime, it became an informal summer resort called “Tent Town” that got more popular each year, especially after a new streetcar line made it accessible in 1905. The campground was finally shut down in 1908 due to a lack of sanitation facilities, and the CPR opened it up for residential development in 1909.
This and many other stories from Vancouver’s past can be found in Vancouver Was Awesome: A Curious Pictorial History (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2013), available in the finest bookstores.
Source: Photo by Don Coltman, City of Vancouver Archives #677-740
Mickey O’Rourke, VC, MM (1874-1957)
In 1917, Michael James "Mickey" O’Rourke became the first British Columbian and the oldest person to be awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour in the British Empire. He emigrated from Ireland to BC and worked as a hard rock miner and logger before enlisting in WWI. Private O’Rourke was a stretcher bearer and earned the award for retrieving and nursing wounded soldiers on the battlefield under heavy enemy fire for three days and nights straight. On several occasions he found himself buried from the artillery raining down around him.
O’Rourke was only able to work intermittently after the war due to shell shock (PTSD) and other health problems that followed him home from battle. He spent the rest of his days living on the skids in what’s now Vancouver Downtown Eastside. He managed to snub the royals on more than one occasion and in 1935 led the march of longshoremen that erupted into the Battle of Balantyne Pier. His funeral drew a huge crowd that included the most prominent Vancouverites alongside his homeless drinking buddies from the East End.
To commemorate the centenary of WWI, O’Rourke and another VC recipient buried in Burnaby’s Forest Lawn Cemetery are getting shiny new headstones. The unveiling takes place this coming Tuesday, 26 August, 10:00 am at Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Source: Photo from Douglas A. Melville, Canadians and the Victoria Cross (St. Catharines, ON: Vanwell Publishing, 1987)
To the beach!!
After a little break, it looks like beach weather is back, and have I got some beach reading for you. Thanks to the wonders of technology, you can now enjoy a hard copy version of much of what you see on Past Tense. Vancouver Was Awesome: A Curious Pictorial History (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2013) can be ordered from the publisher or the old fashioned way of going to one of these or other fine booksellers:
Dorothy Stratten and Paul Snider, ca. 1980
Thirty-four years ago today, Paul Snider raped and murdered twenty year-old Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten.
Dorothy Stratten first posed for Playboy Magazine at a photoshoot at the Bayshore Inn. She had just finished high school and had recently started a new job at BC Tel. She was discovered by a local pimp named Paul Snider while she was working at the Dairy Queen on East Hastings Street at Lakewood. Snider befriended her and persuaded her to pose nude for him. He sent the photos to Playboy, which led to her becoming Miss August 1979 and then Playmate of the Year for 1980.
From there her acting career began to skyrocket and Snider became increasingly irrelevant and jealous. On 14 August 1980, Snider raped and murdered Stratten, abused her corpse, and then shot himself. The tragedy inspired two Hollywood films and songs by Bryan Adams and Prism.
Pigeon Park/Merchant’s Bank, Sunday 15 May 1960
The parklet on the northwest corner of Hastings and Carrall streets was created in the 1930s when the CPR tracks between Burrard Inlet and False Creek were removed. It is officially called Pioneer Place but became known as Pigeon Park around the time this photo was taken because the grass enclosure became such a popular hangout for pigeons and the pensioners who came out to feed them and socialize.
The building is the Merchant’s Bank building, built in 1912 and originally planned to be four to seven stories higher, but capped at three stories because of the economic downturn that year and because the financial centre of the city was shifting to the west of this area by then.
The Merchant’s Bank is owned by PHS Community Services Society, though I’ve heard a rumour that the province took ownership following the PHS scandal earlier this year. PHS had been planning to renovate the building and make it some sort of media arts centre. Before that, it was home to Co-op Radio.
This morning, big chunks of concrete fell off the building, apparently the result of a leaky roof (a similar problem ultimately doomed the old Pantages Theatre).
UPDATE: It looks like mega-developer Concord Pacific is the current owner of the building, though they’ve made it clear that the building is very low on its list of priorities.
Source: Photo by Walter E Frost, City of Vancouver Archives #447-342
New World Confectionary, 1965
The Low family opened the New World Confectionery on the southwest corner of Powell and Dunlevy streets in 1959, and have run it continuously since then, even though many of their retail neighbours closed as the area went into economic decline. The Low family have been told they need to vacate next month while the building undergoes renovations. They are doubtful that they will be able to afford the new rent when the renovations are complete. Neighbourhood folks will miss the store, which gives about $2000 in credit to its customers each month.
The building, Tamura House, is the jewel of what’s left of old Japantown. It’s owned by BC Housing, and Lookout Society manages the social housing/SRO units upstairs. The renos are part of the government’s SRO Renewal initiative. The building also appears in a chapter I wrote for the soon-to-be-released Vancouver Confidential (Anvil Press, 2014).
Source: Photo by Fred Herzog, Equinox Gallery
More money, 10 August 1889
The Reading Room on Cordova Street was the precursor to the Vancouver Public Library until Andrew Carnegie kicked in $50k to build a real library at Main and Hastings. This item caught my eye because, 125 years later, the library system still appears starved for funding. I guess it’s an easy target for budget cuts, given few if any people base their voting preferences on library services. But at the very least, they should return the librarians’ desks at the central branch.
Source: Vancouver Daily World