John Robert Green

What could I have in common with Maggie Siggins, 1992 winner of the Governor General’s  Award for literary merit?  The answer is John R. Green.  In Siggins’ book The Revenge of the Land: A Century of Greed, Tragedy and Murder on a Saskatchewan Farm, she tells the story of every person who owned the property near Pasqua, SK where the Eberle murder took place in 1987.  She writes the history of one particular farm  from 1883 to 1987 and  reports that not one of the men who held title to the land lived a “mundane life”. ”Not one escaped a fate full of astonishing surprises.”

The theme of Ms. Siggins’ book, she says in her preface,  is Greed.

John Robert Green
Moose Jaw Library Archives

For the men who owned this land were often not dedicated “toilers of the soil”; most hated getting their hands dirty. They were businessmen who hired other people to do the hard work.  They were land-speculators who got rich by exploiting anybody who showed signs of weakness. The defeated down-and-out half-breed was their favourite prey. 

For a time early in the 1900s, Mr. John Robert Green owned a portion of the farm about which Ms. Siggins writes, so she spends 38 pages of her book telling his story.  In her preface to Mr. Green’s chapter, she writes this assessment of his life and character.

No one made more money than he did.  He had cast aside his calling as a schoolteacher because it was a poor-paying proposition and got into real estate just as the West was booming.  Quickly he made a fortune. But farming, he said, was his first love, and he collected grain fields as nonchalantly as he did rare coins.  Yet there developed a serious split in his personality–the intellectual versus the money-grubber–and in later life he paid for his neurosis.  He died a stern sick old man, who was not at all well-loved. 

Although Siggins does not think very highly of Mr. Green and doesn’t mind saying so repeatedly in her book, and although I regret the behaviors  and influence that caused suffering and injustice to many people, I don’t think it’s wrong to note some admirable qualities as well as his shortcomings and willful transgressions.

Yes, Mr. Green was one of a number of early Moose Jaw businessmen who was involved in land speculation and the acquisition of lands through some corrupt practices relating to Metis Scrip.  The process of taking land that had been designated for Metis people was widespread, and it seems the government did very little to control what was happening.  More here.

The moral issues raised by the kind of deception and manipulation involved in these kinds of transactions by realtors, speculators, and politicians may have been in some people’s minds when the Moose Jaw Times announced the formation of a Literary and Debate Society for the town of Moose Jaw in 1895.

J.R. Green was a newlywed when he was invited to take part in a debate in the Moose Jaw Town Hall.  He would be on the Moose Jaw team who were opposed by a Boharm team made up of three farmers, one of whom was his brother Fred Green, joined by James Pascoe and R. Grant Thomson.  The Moose Jaw team included in addition to J. R. Green, J.W. Sifton, (the school superintendent, and J.E. Caldwell,  a bright young lawyer.  The resolution to be debated was: Be it Resolved that “ambition is more harmful than beneficial to mankind.”   Apparently the audience selected Boharm as the winners of the debate.   Interesting to me was the fact that both Mr. Sifton and Mr. Caldwell ended up in the area of the city that Mr. Green is most famous for.  Mr. Sifton’s house was across the back alley from 1037  Clifton and faces Main St.  Mr. Caldwell moved into a house facing ours across the street.   Here’s a review of the story of  his acquisition and development of “the avenues” west of Main.

Archives CPR Land Sales Search Results
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Call Number: M 2272, volume 93, contract number 23773
Date of Purchase: 1903 APRIL 4
Purchaser(s): GREEN, JOHN R.
Land Description: SE-5-17-26-W2
Number of Acres: 160
Price per Acre: $30.00
Status of Purchase: PAID IN FULL


J.R. Green bought the one very desirable quarter section of land  from the CPR in 1903 and released it gradually to realtors at the height of the building boom in Moose Jaw.  People said he “bought land by the acre and sold it by the foot.”   He paid $30 an acre and the 50 by 100 foot lot our house would be built on was purchased for $300 in 1911.  So how much profit did he make on 160 acres?   I don’t know if the lots purchased were “serviced”  as a city lot would be today with electricity and water/sewer access included in the price of  $300.  Surely he had to pay someone to survey all the lots . Did the city put the roads and lanes in?  Here’s a problem for your math students, Mrs. Mc.

J.R Green was often in the Moose Jaw papers.  One large column features him as a “Prominent Citizen” and focuses on how admired and respected he was in the community.  His involvement with the Board of Trade and his attempts to have the University placed in Moose Jaw were considered important contributions to the community.  He also made a contribution to the city by providing the land for the Wild Animal Park.  There is good information about the history of the Wild Animal Park at the SAIN (Saskatchewan Archival Information Network).

John R. Green in 1928 in front of his house near land donated for Wild Animal Park.

 My sympathies for him have to do with two things mostly:  one that he was a debater. More and more these days, I appreciate the art of well-articulated disagreement and the benefits of exploring differences in a civilized manner.   But more so, my heart went out to him and first wife, Annie, because of the tragic death of their infant son, Arthur, who was scalded by crawling into a tub of boiled water as his mother prepared to bathe him.  The child died after suffering terribly for a couple of days.  What parents would ever recover from that?

I have decided to include the obituaries that the paper published for Mr. Green and his first wife, Annie.  Both of them died unexpectedly and relatively young, her especially.  Obituary writers used to be quite the story-tellers.



After a short illness Anna Maude, wife of J. R. Green died at the General Hospital Saturday afternoon at 6:30 o’clock. The late Mrs. Green was out to dinner at the home of a friend Wednesday evening and was enjoying her usual good health. Later in the evening, however, she complained of not feeling well, and Thursday evening it was found necessary to call a physician.  Friday, he advised an operation, but the patient would not give her consent.  She was suffering so much Saturday morning that she was immediately rushed to the hospital and prepared for an operation.  Upon operating, the doctors found that it would be impossible for her to live.  She died shortly afterwards.

The late Mrs. Green was 43 years old, is a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. G. Beesley, now in California.  She was born at the well-known Marlborough Farm near Moose Jaw.  She is mourned by her husband, three sons, Wilbert, Allan, and Jack, her father and mother, three brothers and two sisters. John, W.R. and Arthur Beesley, all of the Moose Jaw district, Mrs. J.F. Miller, Swift Current, and Sarah E. Beesley, California.

The late Mrs. Green was a Methodist in religion and was an earnest worker in the church.  She was also an active member of the W.C.T.U. for many years.

The funeral which will be conducted by Rev. H. T. Lewis and E.J. Chegwin, will be held from the family residence, 59 Athabasca West, Tuesday afternoon, at 2 o’clock, and will proceed to the Moose Jaw cemetery.

Mrs. J. F. Miller, Swift Current arrived in the city today, to attend the funeral.  Mr. and Mrs. .J. G. Beesley, and Miss Sarah Beesley, parents and sister of the late Mrs. Green, who are living in California, have left for Moose Jaw, but will not arrive here in time for the funeral.

Source: Moose Jaw Daily News  August 21, 1916

Moose Jaw Public Library Archives

John R. Green, Well Known Resident of Dist., Died Monday (Obituary from Moose Jaw Times July 12, 1938 Microfilm Moose Jaw Public Library Archives

Widely known and respected throughout Western Canada, John R. Green passed away in a local hospital on Monday morning in his 68th year. He was born at Rippingdale, England, on September 28, 1870, and the family emigrated to the United States, later coming to Canada and the Moose Jaw district.

The family made their home for two years at the Henry Battell, later Brubaker, farm, and during his early days John R. Green walked into Moose Jaw daily to attend school, which was held at a variety of places, including two rooms in the Brunswick Hotel, with J.N. McDonald as teacher.

He received his high school training under William Rothwell at Victoria School, and there being no normal school available, engaged at once in his chosen profession of teaching.

In 1895 he taught school at Boharm and later at Pioneer and Marlborough, and it was while  teaching at the last named school that he met his first wife, Annie Maud Beesley, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. G. Beesley, pioneers in that district who later moved to California.

For a time Mr. Green was principal of a school at Nelson, B.C., and on returning to Moose  Jaw, he established a real estate, insurance and financial business.  He was agent for the Manufacturers’ Life Company.  Mr. Green was also the first collector of customs in Moose Jaw, and he homesteaded in the Marlborough district.

The deceased took a prominent part in local affairs and was especially prominent at one time in Board of Trade activities.

In 1905, Mr. Green unsuccessfully contested the Moose Jaw constituency in the Liberal interests for the first legislature of Saskatchewan, being defeated by the late John Wellington, who ran as a Conservative.

He was widely known as a student of economic matters and his services were much in demand for addresses to service clubs and other organizations over a wide territory.

At the time of rapid development of the Western prairies, Mr. Green was extensively engaged in the real estate business, during the late 90’s and the early part of the present century.  He was one of the largest realtors investing in Southern Saskatchewan lands at a time when settlers came into this locality in large numbers; and he himself was one of the largest property owners in this part of the country.  Mr. Green farmed on a large scale, and this year had about 3,000 acres under cultivation.

When Moose Jaw first started to grow, Mr. Green invested heavily in local property, and placed on the market one of the first subdivisions, High Park West, a quarter section lying immediately north of Caribou St. West and between Main Street and Fifth Avenue.

After disposing of that property he acquired the Alex Thompson and Ostrander farms immediately south of the city—a total of one and one-half sections, and here he made his home.

Through his generosity, Moose Jaw came into possession of the now widely famed Wild Animal Park, a lease of which former farm property was granted to the wild Animal Park Association.

By his first wife, Mr. Green had three sons, Wilbert now of San Pedro, California; Alan and John both farming in Moose Jaw district. A fourth son, Arthur, predeceased Mr. Green.

In 1920 he married Alida Blakely, daughter of R. W. and Mary E. Blakely of Toronto. By this marriage there are four children, Robert, Harry, David and Mary, all of Moose jaw.

One Reply to “John Robert Green”

  1. The property names are very interesting, Brenda. We live just down the road from Marlborough Farm and a bit further west is the Beesley place. Also we lived some years ago on Maybery. Old MJ names for sure! Alene

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