Accomplished artists and arts educators Ashley Doucette Pilles and Gabriel Deerman found the perfect property to open Salmon River Studios, which recently opened its doors in Tamworth.

“The property fell really well within the parameters of what we were hoping for – shockingly well, actually. Ashley’s family lives about 20 minutes up the road and we had been thinking of finding a place in this area for a little while. I was looking on MLS for a property on a river. We really wanted it to be on the water and we wanted a decent parcel of land. We would have been happy with just a patch of raw, undeveloped land and think about gradually building it up to the sort of facility we actually have now,” said Deerman.

“But when this property came to our attention it was more than we expected or hoped for. The amount of acreage, the house, the two barns – it was kind of too good to be true. And it actually was in that sense because it took us about two years to get a mortgage on it.”

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The property is comprised of 52 acres with a substantial frontage along the Salmon River. There is a house and a large barn, which already had a certain amount of amenities – again a stroke of good fortune for the couple.

“It is a timber-framed barn that has been restored. It was built in the 1880s and is in gorgeous condition. We have reinforced the floors and extended some of the already existing electricity. And it was incredible that the barn already had power. It also had running water, so now it’s set up as an art studio and teaching studio. We’ve started doing workshops and it’s been winterized so we can continue through the winter,” Deerman explained.

The interest already generated over the very short time Salmon River Studios has been opened, and the interest from the arts community throughout the region, has meant some of Pilles and Deerman’s longer-term plans are now shorter-term plans – a happy, but frenetic position to be in when starting a new enterprise.

“It will be interesting to see how it builds and a lot of that will have to do with the support from the municipality. And I am getting a really good feeling from them and believe that we will be able to do everything we want to do. It’s just a matter of how many hoops we’ll have to jump through and how long that will take,” Deerman said.

“But we are already positioned to be offering lessons and workshops and doing studio work. In the spring the plan is to be able to offer a lot more programming, lessons and workshop as well as public events. The goal is for the space to be a genuine arts and cultural venue for the area, one that operates on funding through arts organizations like the Ontario Arts Council or the Canada Council and to be able to offer arts and educational programming from small children right up to people working on their PhD.”

And it seems as though Salmon River Studios is well on its way to that goal. The biggest challenge so far was securing that elusive mortgage. Pilles and Deerman eventually found the solution which was, again, an unexpectedly positive development.

“We ended up going through Farm Credit Canada. So long term, we’re going to have to be doing some agricultural work as well on the property. We already have a tenant farmer who takes the hay, but eventually we’re looking at broadening our interests to include some modest farming,” Deerman said, adding that one thing he thought would be challenge has turned out to be quite the opposite – the amount of interest in the project from a supportive local artistic and cultural community within Stone Mills Township, L&A County and beyond.

“We’re off the beaten path a bit and out in the country and didn’t know if it was going to be received well and if there was going to be interest from the local community. But the interest has been overwhelming. We really can’t even keep up with all the interest and inquiries. It’s amazing,” Deerman said adding that they want to integrate and enhance the existing arts scene as much as possible.

“We’re not here to reinvent the wheel. There’s already great things happened and we just want to do our part within that and bring something to the table that adds to it.”

One thing that has set the Salmon River Studios apart is the programming Deerman and Pilles are doing for people of all ages with special needs. Already they have a partnership with New Leaf Link, a non-profit charitable organization based out of Harrowsmith that supports the continuing education and meaningful occupation of youth and adults with developmental disabilities. They plan on adding to that relationship by incorporating other classes and workshops for folks with special needs.

Both Deerman and Pilles are Ontario College of Teachers and International Baccalaureate certified instructors. Deerman has worked in painting, printmaking, drawing, sculpture and mixed media, while Pilles works in ceramics and textiles as well as wood working. Both hold Bachelor of Visual Arts degrees from Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, as well as Bachelor of Education degrees from Queen’s. Pilles is working towards a Masters of Art in Education through Boston University while Deerman earned a Masters in Fine Art from Transart Institute (Berlin/New York). Prior to moving to Tamworth they were both working as art teachers instructing the children of foreign workers in the Middle Eastern nation of Qatar.

Deerman will be hosting an open house in partnership with New Leaf Link on December 7th from 9:30am to 2:30pm at the Tett Centre rehearsal room in Kingston. The open house will be an information session focusing on art lessons for young adults with special needs. For more information on the Salmon River Studios, visit

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