The Spirit Catcher

About the Spirit Catcher

The Spirit Catcher has been sited on Barrie’s waterfront, at the base of Maple Street since 1987. Initially developed for Vancouver’s EXPO ’86, Ron Baird created this sculpture to support the EXPO’s theme of transportation and communication. Influenced by the iconography of Indigenous oral traditions in the Pacific Northwest, the work references the Thunderbird. Originally installed at False Creek in Vancouver, this 20-tonne steel sculpture took over six months to produce. The sculpture is 21 metres high and has 16 kinetic quills, 2 wings, 3 legs and a pair of antennae. The Spirit Catcher is made of cor-ten steel, a steel that does not flake when it rusts, but instead retains its structural integrity. The artist has deliberately rusted the metal for aesthetic reasons.

After the end of EXPO ’86, the sculpture was purchased by the Helen McCrea Peacock Foundation and donated to the Barrie Gallery Project in memory of Helen McCrea Peacock and Kenneth Westrup. The Barrie Gallery Project was renamed the MacLaren Art Centre in 1991, and the Spirit Catcher was the first artwork to enter the MacLaren’s Permanent Collection. The installation took place over the course of two days in June 1987 and was dedicated in September of that year.

Ron Baird (RCA) is a Canadian artist, based out of Beaverton, Ontario. He is best known for his large-scale, site-specific sculptural installations. Many are kinetic or respond in some way to their environmental conditions. Baird is the recipient of numerous honours, including Allied Arts Awards from the Royal Architectural Society of Canada and the Ontario Society of Architects. He has worked throughout Canada and has undertaken residencies in Ireland and Nicaragua. Other publicly sited works by Baird in Barrie include the Sea Serpent (1986) on Barrie’s waterfront, and the Spirit Clock (2015) at Yonge Street Station.

The Spirit Catcher public sculpture by Ron Baird in downtown Barrie

Ron Baird, Spirit Catcher, 1986, Corten steel, 21.3 m high. Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre. Gift of the Helen McCrea Peacock Foundation, 1987. Photo: Joseph Hartman, 2013

Repairs to the Spirit Catcher

Every year, the MacLaren undertakes routine maintenance and review of the Spirit Catcher. In June 2016, the technicians noted that several of the ball bearings, now thirty years old, were in need of replacement. On the advice of the technicians, the sculpture was fenced off as a precautionary measure. The MacLaren brought on mechanical engineers from CC Tatham, who completed an on-site review of the structure in July. Their report noted that three quills required new ball bearings, and recommended undertaking non-destructive safety testing on the internal assembly to ensure that the Spirit Catcher remained safe. The report identified other issues—including some corrosion damage to the quill seams, some corrosion to bolt heads, and the general age of all ball bearings—but noted that the steel structure was otherwise in good condition.

The MacLaren Art Centre has a detailed preservation plan for Spirit Catcher’s maintenance and annually inspects all moving and stationary parts, greasing bearings and preparing a report on the condition of the sculpture. In 2016, the MacLaren Art Centre worked with engineers from Tatham and with Western Mechanical to replace the ball bearings on each of the sixteen quills and on the two antennae. Spirit Catcher has been sited on city land at the Barrie waterfront since 1987, and was accessioned into the MacLaren’s Permanent Collection in 1989. It has become an icon for the City of Barrie and the MacLaren remains committed to its preservation and care.