Meet Tom Carter

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by Tom Carter
Harry Carter–Tom’s grandfather outside his East Hastings Street cafe in the 1930s

Tom CarterI visited Tom Carter in his heritage loft a couple of weeks ago. It was the same afternoon that we climbed up to the top of the Sun Tower, in what was in 1912, the tallest building in the British Empire. Tom lives next door in a 100-year-old converted warehouse designed for Storey & Campbell Limited by William Tuff Whiteway, the same architect who designed the Sun Tower for Mayor L.D. Taylor.

His loft looks out onto Pender Street and its floor to ceiling windows give a great view of Victory Square and some of the building stock we’ve managed to hang onto such as the Dominion and the Standard Buildings. The brick walls of the loft make a fitting background for Tom’s paintings of Vancouver’s street scenes and heritage buildings—many now long gone.

"Night falls over the City of Vancouver" by Tom Carter
“Night falls over the City of Vancouver” by Tom Carter
Tom Carter is a Vancouver artist
Plaster from the Pantages Theatre saved from the landfill

Tom is fascinated by Vancouver’s early theatre industry and has an amazing collection of photographs, books and even some of the original plaster that he managed to salvage on his daily trips to the Pantages Theatre during its destruction two years ago.

Before he starting painting, Tom lived the rock and roll dream. He co-owned and managed a recording studio in Surrey working with artists like Long John Baldry, and members of Chilliwack and Trooper. Tom played keyboard on a lot of the albums, and his beautiful concert grand takes up a prominent position in his loft.

Tom at home with "Warmth at the edge of wilderness"
Tom at home with “Warmth at the edge of wilderness”

“We did blues albums that were nominated for Juno awards, a lot of roots rock,” says Tom. “I loved it, it was a lot of fun, but then it got to the point it just wasn’t fun anymore.”

Tom bought the loft in 2003, turned 40, stopped drinking, and dabbled in real estate.

“I found myself sitting in this place, I was unemployed, and I didn’t have a clue how I was going to make the next mortgage payment.”

518 Beatty Street
Sun Tower & Storey & Campbell warehouse 1930

Then he started to research his family history and had a kind of epiphany.

“I realized my grandfather was the same age—39—when he moved to Vancouver from the Prairies,” says Tom. “I knew his life from the early 40s on because he had businesses in the Okanagan, he was mayor of Oliver, but I didn’t know much about this transition period, and I was going through the same transition.”

Tom learned that his grandfather had owned the Vancouver Cafe and Grill next to the Balmoral Hotel on East Hastings. His father told him about the bombing of the Royal Theatre across the street in 1933, and how a piece of the Royal had smashed into his restaurant.

Tom hit Special Collections at the Vancouver Public Library and the Vancouver Archives and searched through old newspaper articles and photos from the ‘30s and ‘40s. The stories melded with his own memories as a kid in the ‘60s coming into the city to see films at the Orpheum and the Strand.

“There was still Woodwards downtown, we still had the PNE parade—all those Vancouver institutions that are gone now,” he says. “I was trying to find a style—something I really want to paint.”

Tom sold his first painting at a small gallery in West Vancouver for $900, his second for $1,250 and his third for $13,500. Now his sought-after paintings hang on boardroom walls and in private collections all over the city.

© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus.

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16 comments

  1. I am a friend of Tom’s and a huge fan of his work. My husband Erik recorded many songs with Tom and his partner Daryl at their studio and Tom and Erik have co written some great tunes as well. Thanks for the info and background here on Tom’s story and his Grandfather… an interesting read. Thanks for posting

  2. A wonderful article Eve. I am also a local artist, one who became friends with Tom in 2011 through our shared passion for Vancouver history of the recent and not so recent past. That loft and collection of his is incredible isn’t!? Thanks again Eve for the great piece, and to you Tom; congratulations once again my friend! Cheers Charles.

  3. What a great story and such wonderful insight and background on a wonderful artist and great guy! Very well written. I met Tom briefly at The Seattle Art Museum a few years ago and subsequently purchased one of his paintings. I am so thankful we have kept in touch by email since our meeting. He is a kind person a wonderfully talented artist and a class act. Thank you for showcasing him.

  4. Really nice to hear a story like that… Following curiosity and pursuing the past with light of the present. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Thank you Eve for helping me find Tom. I had no idea he had become an artist. I recorded at magic lab 1997 it was an experience to remember . with toms help. He also played his Grand Keys on one of the tracks. CD is called Grand Detour Fork in the road. I tried to find him a while back because i wanted to get more copies made, all done now . This time I was just curious. Please let him know….:)

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