At the base of Maple Street on the scenic waterfront sits Barrie's majestic landmark, the Spirit Catcher. Ron Baird was one of nine sculptors asked to submit proposals for EXPO '86 and he was one of the two sculptors chosen. The theme of EXPO '86 was transportation and communication. With this is mind the artist thought of his sculpture as spiritual antennae. The imagery of the Spirit Catcher was influenced by the west coast location and the Thunderbird of First Nations' mythology. The Thunderbird is a messenger who carries our dreams and desires to the Creator.
The 20 tonne steel sculpture took six months to make and was originally installed at False Creek in Vancouver, British Columbia. Once EXPO '86 ended, the sculpture was purchased by the Helen McCrea Peacock Foundation (Toronto) for $230,000 after months of negotiations. The Foundation donated the sculpture, in memory of Helen McCrea Peacock and Kenneth Westrup, to the "Barrie Gallery Project" as an inspiration to create an art gallery in the City of Barrie.
The sculpture came to Barrie on 2 flatbed trucks and was installed with the assistance of several volunteers and two cranes. The installation took almost two full days on the weekend of June 12 and 13, 1987 and was dedicated on September 12, 1987.
The Spirit Catcher is made of Corten steel, a steel which does not flake when it rusts, but instead retains its structural integrity. The artist has deliberately rusted the metal for aesthetic reasons. The sculpture measures 70 by 65 feet (21 metres high) and has 16 kinetic quills, 2 wings, 3 legs and a pair of kinetic antennae. The original quills were embellished with stainless steel epaulets. The City of Barrie provided the site at the base of Maple Street on the waterfront and continues to maintain the grounds. The site may have been a trading post on the Nine Mile Portage, although it is most likely landfill from the 1960's. Legend has it that First Nations traders were treated unfairly by the manager of the trading post and an elder cursed the site. On the day that the Spirit Catcher was dedicated, the site was blessed with the burning of sweet grass and a performance by the Rama Native Drum Group.
Several months after the sculpture was erected in Barrie, the gusting and unpredictable winds off Kempenfelt Bay caused several quills and one antenna to fall off. A trio of structural and aeronautical engineers from DeHavailland Aircraft of Canada were consulted to redesign the quills. A scale model of the sculpture was placed in a wind tunnel to ensure the future structural integrity. The quills were redesigned to withstand the winds and no further incidents have occurred. And so the Spirit Catcher became the first work in the permanent collection and is still the largest piece. It was this important donation that got Barrie's first public art gallery off the ground. In 1988 the "Interim Gallery" opened at 17c Mulcaster Street in downtown Barrie. In 1991 it became the MacLarenArtCentre after Maurice MacLaren beqeathed his art collection and his home at 147 Toronto Street to the gallery. Over the next several years the collection grew with several donations. It is now a widely recognized icon for the City of Barrie.
b) Not-for-profit organizations in Barrie may apply to the MacLaren to use a 2-D image reproduction of the Spirit Catcher as a part of their logo or graphic design to promote an event or cause, provided the objects/merchandize they produce are not for sale. This graphic can represent the Spirit Catcher in whole or part (detail) but not alone, and in any colour, and without credit to the artist, the artwork or the MacLaren. Requests from non-profit organizations are to be submitted to the MacLaren Assistant Curator/Registrar (firstname.lastname@example.org) for approval prior to use.