British Columbia

Biker bar meets the Louvre: tiny B.C. Kootenays pub houses major original art collection

A hotel and pub in the B.C. West Kootenay contains one the largest collections of original Canadian art found outside a major gallery.

Ymir, B.C., hotel and pub contains hundreds of original paintings by renowned Canadian artists

This original painting by Canadian artist Richard Priest is one of hundreds that cover the walls and ceiling of the Hotel Ymir Country Resort. (Bob Keating/ CBC)

Biker bars and art galleries typically don't go hand-in-hand, but that's exactly what you'll find in the tiny B.C. West Kootenay town of Ymir.

Located along Highway 6 south of Nelson, B.C., the Hotel Ymir Country Resort houses a private art collection that could rival almost any in Western Canada.

"It's a little unusual, I know that," said Hans Wilking, the 85-year-old pub and hotel owner.

The decades-old building is literally packed to the rafters with more than 400 original paintings and artifacts by renowned Canadian artists such as Allan Edwards, E.J.(Edward John ) Hughes, Richard Priest and Norval Morrisseau. 

Paintings cover the walls, the ceiling and they even hang above the bathroom urinals.

Art covers every available space in both the pub and hotel rooms at the Hotel Ymir Country Resort. (Bob Keating/ CBC)

"I prefer the expressionists or realism. I have a few modern paintings, but it's not my style," said Wilking.

Wilking ran a nursery on Vancouver Island for more than 50 years before purchasing the Ymir hotel in 2005.

"When I took over here it was a bikers' bar and it was kind of rough," he said.

"Me being just a horticulturalist and not in the hotel business, I had to learn a lot."

Hotel rooms decorated with original art

Wilking did not make many changes aside from adorning nearly every possible inch with his vast personal art collection.

In addition to the dozens of paintings found in the pub, all the hotel rooms and hallways contain original art as well.

You can book a $44 room with a shared bathroom that sits across from two paintings by First Nations artist Norval Morrisseau, who is often called 'the Picasso of the North.'

Hans Wilking shows off the art found in the $44 room at the Hotel Ymir Country Resort. (Bob Keating/ CBC)

"It's probably worth $20,000 or $30,000 now," said Wilking of one of many Morrisseau works in his collection. 

Calls art a lifelong passion

Wilking began purchasing the art as a young man when many of the artists were just starting out, and he knew them personally.

"Allan Edwards is called the forgotten artist. He's not as famous as my friend Ed Hughes, but one day he will be," said Wilking.

Hughes paintings have sold for more than $400,000 each. 

Wilking is not concerned about art theft at the Ymir location, but keeps his most valuable works in an alarmed building in nearby Salmo, B.C.

Ymir hotel and pub contains multiple original paintings by First Nations artist Norval Morrisseau, known as "the Picasso of the North." (Bob Keating/ CBC)

Wilking says the University of Victoria has recently taken an interest in his paintings and artifacts.

He did not put a price on the full lot, but said he would like the art to remain together as a collection. 

As for a favourite, Wilking says he can't decide on just one.

"I like them all," he said.

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With files from CBC's Bob Keating.


Jaimie Kehler is a web writer, producer and broadcaster based in Kelowna, B.C. She has also worked for CBC News in Toronto and Ottawa. To contact her with a story, email