Floating studio lures artists in residence to tiny Ontario town
It’s a landscape guaranteed to inspire. Endless islands and inlets, a matchless calm, and indelibly connected with the natural and wild. Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls is a township just south of Kenora, on the shores of Lake of the Woods. There are less than 600 permanent residents, but a summer influx of several hundred visitors from Ontario, nearby Manitoba and the US come each summer to enjoy classic northern Ontario pursuits of fishing, hunting, and cottaging.

However, this year, the community is trying to lure a new kind of sightseer. Three newly constructed, tiny studios—one in the forest, one travelling by road throughout the region, and one floating on the lake – will host artists in residence. The goal is to inspire the creation of art, as well as showcase the region’s inherent ability to inspire to a wider audience of potential visitors.

Despite its small population, the twin towns of Sioux Narrows and Nestor Falls have an artistic side, with the communities hosting events as part of the Bridge and Falls Cultural Series, including their annual late August music festival, Moose and Fiddle.

In 2014, the community organised a Playwright’s Colony in which writers and actors from across Canada met in a classic lakeside lodge to workshop three new plays. The effort was a great success, with the participants enjoying the chance to fully immerse in artistic pursuits away from the pressures and distractions of life. The colony will be continued and expanded this year, but they will also be a new artistic initiative joining it.
“With the Playwright’s Colony, artists fell in love with the landscape and the ability to be alone and concentrate on your work, surrounded by other artists and have those conversations morning, noon, and night,” explains Denise Lysak, cultural officer for the township. “It got us thinking that wouldn’t it be great if there was a dedicated space for artists to come and create here.”

The idea was championed by the local township council as well as the community, through a series of consultation sessions. Inspired by tiny studios serving as artist residencies in places such as the Leighton Colony Studio in Banff, the Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls decided to construct three studios that could capture what makes the region special: its forests, lakes and communities.

Denise explains the inspiration, “The lake is so much a part of our everyday lives. We wanted the artists to experience that.”

Local high school students (in consultation with Prairie Architects) have already constructed the first of three studios – the floating studio, perhaps the first of its kind. The township put out a call for artists, and has received proposals from a variety of backgrounds, including multimedia, writing, visual arts, and emerging arts. This first year, they hope to sponsor six week-long residences. The artists will create in their studio by day and camp in prospector tents or stay at local lodges at night. The township also hopes there will be an aspect of community engagement where artists will share some of their creative process and work with the community.
“We hope the artists will enjoy finding time and space away from paying bills, kids crying, and the pressures of everyday life, and be inspired by the natural surroundings. Being in Canadian Shield country, this place really grounds you. You have the canopy of trees, the islands, and the lakes that become part of you psyche,” Denise says. "Traditionally, tourism in this area has been about fishing and hunting, but we’ve seen an uptake in interest in other experiences. We have a craft brewery in Kenora just up the road. We have a small museum and discovery centre. People keep coming back year after year to for group experiences with family and friends, sitting around the camp fire or bbq. With the studio and residence, we’re also speaking to the other side of the brain or that other family member who wants something different.”
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