Vancouver Was Awesome: Greer’s Beach, 1861 and 1908


A Vancouver time travelogue brought to you by Past Tense.

According to City Archivist Major Matthews, the top image is the first known portrayal of what’s now Vancouver. It’s a copy of a watercolour painted by Lieut. Willies of the HMS Ganges in 1861 and shows members of the crew helping local Squamish people pull heavy fishing nets to shore. Matthews determined that the location was Greer’s (now Kitsilano) Beach at the foot of Yew Street, where the bottom photo was taken in 1908.

The beach was named after Samuel Greer, an Irishman and American Civil War vet who lived on the beach. He was eventually evicted by the CPR, but only after a gunfight between him and the sheriff.

In his notes included with the photo, Major Matthews writes:

Samuel Greer’s cottage stood on the low mound—sand blown—where the long boat shed appears; his barn and water well were out of sight on the right; his orchard and garden, also milk-house were behind. His cows grazed in the swamp, where, in earlier days, elk had roamed. Three creeks entered this beach; one in the corner on right; one in the middle of beach; and a small one at far end; they almost dried up in summer. The Canadian Pacific Railway right-of-way is in the lower right-hand corner.

It was first used as a resort for summer camps in the early 1890’s; became most fashionable to have a camp there, was renamed “Kitsilano” by the Can. Pac. Ry, and when the single track street car line commenced, on or about Dominion Day, 1905, proved so popular that it became crowded. “Tent Town” had two rows of camper’s tents, with an irregular “street” of sand between them.

After serving as a camp site for more than 15 years, it was discontinued, after 1908, on account of improper sanitation, and the opening of the area for settlement 1909. The forest was cut down and burned, and a black empty clearing lay where it had been. The C.P.R. built five fine houses—one here and there—to induce settlement. When False Creek was deepened in 1913, the sand was pumped on the swamp, and the muskrats & frogs in the slough disappeared.

Sources: Top image: Major JS Matthews, Conversations with Khahtsahlano, 1932-1954(Vancouver: City of Vancouver Archives, 1955); bottom photo: City of Vancouver Archives #Be P24; quotation: Major JS Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 7 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 33.

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