Lewis Carter was born in Ireland, in either 1842 or 1843, and arrived in Vancouver a few weeks before the fire that destroyed the city, and the hotel he had just built only weeks earlier. W.F. Findlay, Mr. Carter’s nephew told the story to City Archivist Major Matthews. “My uncle, Lewis Carter, of the Carter House, told me that, when the fire broke out, he was halfway up Mount Pleasant” (up Westminster Avenue on Mount Pleasant), “and started to run back. He ran a long way, then walked to regain his breath, then started running again, and got as far as the corner of Cordova Street East and Main Street and then turned west down Cordova Street slope. The wind was so strong that he could hardly make headway. He got as far as Carrall Street, but the fire prevented further progress and he turned and went down Hastings Road with the crowd.”
He started building a replacement hotel almost immediately, and The Carter House stood next to the Stag & Pheasant on Water Street for many years. It was, (some said), the first three storey building in the town – both before and after the fire. Mr. Findlay also explained how Lewis had ended up in Vancouver. “My uncle was one of the surveyors of the line of the C.P.R. from Port Moody to Vancouver. He once told me that he had once taken a big Indian canoe, capable of holding three and a half tons cargo—a big canoe—and he (Mr. Carter), three or four Indians, and two surveyors—a regular survey party—had carried it across from Burrard Inlet to False Creek at high tide, via what is now Carrall Street, to save half a day’s paddling, and bucking tide necessary to go around through the Narrows.”
In 1891 the census described Lewis as a hotel keeper, his wife, Margaret (from Ontario) was with him, nearly twenty years younger, and his brother, John, was there too as the hotel clerk. Over twenty lodgers were also recorded, from Ontario and New Brunswick, the USA, Scotland and England. They worked as loggers, mill hands, bricklayers and carpenters, tinsmiths and teamsters – a cross section of the trades building the rapidly expanding city. Margaret was the daughter of Robert McMorran who became a city Alderman for one term in 1898, was a member of the Orange Lodge, and who died in 1910.
The photograph was reproduced by W J Moore from a copy of around 1887, and the people in it were identified by W F Findlay: on the veranda was Mrs. Margaret J. Carter, wife of the owner. The third from the left is C.E. McTaggart, afterwards manager of the Vancouver City Market (destroyed by fire) opposite the C.N.R. station; the fourth is Chas. E. Doering, of Doering and Marstrand, brewers of Mount Pleasant; the fifth Lewis Carter, the owner of the hotel; and the seventh John L. Carter, his brother and manager of the hotel. A painted sign states, “Meals and Beds, 25¢.” The 1887 date seems likely to be correct – although there had been buildings on the street since the 1860s, after the fire the street was still uneven and unpaved; only the wooden sidewalks were reasonably easy to walk on.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Hot P1