Relic Hunter

Tom Carter
Directed By:
Inder Nirwan
December 4, 2022
Episode Partner:

Episode Partner

About the episode

Vancouver's golden age of entertainment is something that must be preserved. In this month’s episode of iNVANCiTY, we learn about why it important to keep what remains from the city's most prestigious old theatres and how one man took it upon himself to save Vancouver history before it’s all developed to oblivion.

Meet Tom CarterAn historian, painter, and relic hunter, preserving pieces of Vancouver as if he’s Indiana Jones.

Tom was born and raised in Vancouver. As a young boy, his parents would take him around the city and show him the glamorous theatre district up and down Hastings street.

“The Pantages was my favourite”, boasts Tom.

Working for a real estate magnate, Tom’s career took a nose dive when his boss decided to cash out. This happened in his 40’s, and with a mortgage on his city apartment, Tom had to find a new way to make some money.

Things looked pretty grim. That is until someone took notice of one of Tom’s paintings.“I would just paint for myself, I didn’t know anyone would actually want to buy one of these”.

Tom’s affection for the city was being secretly immortalized into these beautiful canvassed recreations of different eras of history. He sold one for $10,000 and just like that, Tom became a professional artist.

Many of these paintings are as accurate as possible, because Tom does all the necessary research to learn about which buildings would be where for the era.As part of his research, Tom would visit old heritage theatres to study and photograph them for his artwork. Then, one day he learned that his favourite theatre was about to be demolished.

“The Pantages has so many beautiful finishings and ornaments. I said, hey someone ought to do something. And then I was like, I’m someone!”

Tom took it upon himself to bribe his way into the Pantages and scavenge what he could. Scoring a decent collection of railings, signage, old pamphlets and even a couple of chairs.He’s since become known for his relic hunting throughout Vancouver where he strikes deals with demolition companies and landlords to let him in and find treasures of not-so-ancient history.

Meeting Tom has been an interesting journey. Spend five minutes with him and you’ll get 50 years worth of Vancouver history. It’s a refreshing perspective on such a new city. Interesting fact: Vancouver was where big acts would open so they could test their material before touring the US. Apparently word never got down there about how good or bad a set was, so they could beta test in front of a Vancouver audience.

I’ve never really thought to visit the Vancouver Archives (to be frank, I didn’t even know they exist), but Tom’s passion for Vancouver history, as it shows through his art, inspires a wanting to know more about what happened on these city streets just a few decades ago.

Tom is currently working with the Vancouver Archives and UBC to catalogue and store hundreds of relics found in his adventures. He’s also a board member of the Vancouver Historical Society, the Friends of the Vancouver Archives, the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame, and and Vancouver Police Historical Society.

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