William Allister

The East Weds West Collection

A Unique Art Collection

From One of Canada's Outstanding Painters

The paintings of William Allister are featured in private collections and museums in Canada, France, South Africa, Mexico, the US, and Japan, with reproductions sold worldwide. 

The EAST WEDS WEST collection, consisting of 18  works of art, had its world premiere at the Canadian Embassy Gallery in Tokyo, Japan, sponsored by the Canadian government. The premier coincided with the opening of the hour-long documentary on Allister’s life, “The Art of Compassion,” which also aired nationally on the C.B.C. The War Museum in Ottawa presently owns “Returning As A Bird,” the first painting of the Collection. 

EAST WEDS WEST relates to an almost forgotten ignominious episode regarding the Canadian government’s abandonment of its soldiers sent to fight the Japanese in Hong Kong in WWll. These works were painted as a personal healing for the artist where he endured nearly four years as a POW in the shipyards of Kawawsaki, Tokyo.

Over the years William Allister grew to love and embrace Japanese aesthetics and was inspired to celebrate and incorporate traditional Japanese art, literature and Buddhism into this collection. These works celebrate the coming together of two cultures in peace and harmony.

The Collection has been displayed at the Asian Centre, U.B.C., as well as the Richmond Art Gallery of British Columbia and the Gallery of Greater Victoria.

William Allister’s powerful thought-provoking work continues to captivate audiences from around the world. His enduring wish was to have the East Weds West Collection find a home where the paintings would be permanently displayed and open to the public.

William Allister, nationally acclaimed Canadian artist, was born in Manitoba, Canada, 1919. His adventurous career took him to the far ends of the world—from being a soldier in Hong Kong in his early twenties, a P.O.W. in Japan during World War II, an actor and documentary filmmaker in Hollywood, writer in New York and Mexico, and finally to achieving recognition as an acclaimed international artist until his passing in 2008. His premier novel, A HANDFUL OF RICE, won the Dominion Award for literature in 1961 and was translated into Dutch, Norwegian and Japanese. He also held 9 international first prize awards for his documentary films. In 1986, he was presented with an Author’s Award by the League for the Advancement of Canadian Letters. His second novel, WHERE LIFE AND DEATH HOLD HANDS, won the Prime Minister’s Award for Publishing from the Canadian Embassy in Japan. In his career as an artist he has held over 45 one-man shows. His works are in collections and museums in Canada, France, South Africa, Mexico, the US, and Japan.

William Allister’s INTERNATIONAL COLLECTION was donated by his wife Mona, to the Fraser Valley Regional Library system where the entire works are displayed and rotated in their 25 community libraries throughout the Delta region. His other works can be found in private collections in Canada and throughout the world.


Documentary on William Allister

THE ART OF COMPASSION presents parallel portraits of two men, William Allister, renowned Canadian artist and Raymond Moriyama, Canada’s top architect. Both men have transformed painful experiences into sources of creative inspiration. William Allister was imprisoned in Japan after the fall of Hong Kong, and Raymond Moriyama was interned in British Columbia after the Canadian government implemented the War Measures Act. Their creative works bridge two cultures which have had a significant impact on their lives.


On Artist William Allister

The Canadian War Museum is proud to own several paintings by William Allister that were generously donated by his wife, Mona Allister. William painted the work featured here, in 1942, when he was still a prisoner of war. It is on display in the exhibition Forever Changed – Stories From the Second World War. 


In late 1941, when signalman William Allister heard he was shipping out, he assumed he was bound for Britain. Instead, he was sent to the British colony of Hong Kong. Within weeks, the Japanese attacked, and William was part of the desperate battle.
When the Allied forces were overrun, William was taken prisoner. He — like so many Canadians — was mistreated in the prisoner-of-war camps. Artistic by nature, he took refuge in painting, using improvised materials such as crankshaft oil for paint, handmade brushes, and stolen pieces of tent canvas.
In 1983, nearly 40 years after his imprisonment, he decided to return to Japan with his wife. “We lived for two months in Kyoto, Japanese style,” he said, “absorbing the spirit of the land, seeing a deeper understanding, a new direction on the rocky road of forgiveness. [It] brought an inner peace at last.”
His acclaimed East Weds West Collection was conceived during that time, and the Canadian War Museum was honoured when Mona Allister presented it with the first work in that series, Returning As A Bird.
In addition to writing two books — (A Handful of Rice: Secker & Warbourg and Where Life and Death Hold Hands: Stoddart Publishing) — on his wartime experiences, William was the subject of the 1995 Canadian documentary titled The Art of Compassion. He was an author and filmmaker, as well as a commercial and fine artist, often expressing his disturbing wartime experiences through his art.
“My father was very open about his time as a prisoner of war,” said his daughter, Dorianne Allister Winkler. Through the 19 mural-size paintings in the East Weds West series, he essentially painted his way to peace. He told us he would never forget, but to forgive — yes!”

Dorianne Allister Winkler