'400 pounds of blackbird' installed at new natural playground in Stratford

A giant red-winged blackbird marks the spot where Stratford's new natural playground will eventually take shape at Fullerton's Creek Conservation Park.

Bursting of Atlantic bubble has delayed work on rest of Fullerton's Creek project

Artist Gerald Beaulieu says he was inspired to create the piece after seeing the blackbirds in the nearby marsh. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

A giant red-winged blackbird marks the spot where Stratford's new natural playground will eventually take shape at Fullerton's Creek Conservation Park.

The $100,000 playground was supposed to open this fall, but is now on hold.

The company in charge of the project, Cobequid Consulting, is based in Nova Scotia, and its staff can no longer travel to P.E.I. without isolating now that the Atlantic bubble has temporarily closed. 

Artist Gerald Beaulieu says one of the themes of this piece is balance. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Fortunately for the town, the artist commissioned to provide an interactive public art installation for the playground lives not far from the park, in Stratford. 

"When I walked the site and got to the lookout at the end up by the marsh, the blackbirds were just so distinctive, flittering amongst the reeds in the bulrushes," said artist Gerald Beaulieu. 

"I work from photographs, and I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted it to look."

The cattail stands 18 feet tall, as seen from above by the CBC drone. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Flora and fauna

Beaulieu said flora and fauna have been featured in many of his recent pieces, including the tuna at Queen and Richmond streets in Charlottetown, the sculpted leaves on Water Street, and crows made out of tires that were at the Confederation Centre of the Arts.

He also created a cormorant public art piece for the town of Montague.

This bluefin tuna sculpture in downtown Charlottetown is another of Beaulieu's pieces. (CBC)

The Fullerton's marsh design brought in another factor.

"The other theme with this piece is balance, which also relates to land use — having a conservation area next to an urban site like this, and how we balance how we protect nature with our own footprints," Beaulieu said.

On a practical note, the balance theme comes into play in terms of "trying to get 400 pounds of blackbird suspended high up on a pole," Beaulieu said. "And in order to do that, you need to actually work with the laws of nature and not fight them, and just get that perfect balance point happening."  

The whole sculpture, including the giant cattail where the bird perches, weighs about 800 pounds. 

The blackbird and cattail were horizontal the entire time Beaulieu was building the structure. (Submitted by Christine Trainor)

'Fantastic opportunity'

Beaulieu constructed the bird in his yard, completing it in mid-August and then waiting for the town to begin work on the playground site.

He said the sculpture was lying horizontally the entire time he was building it.  

"It's good to see it the way it was originally intended. I've been used to just crawling around and underneath to get at it," Beaulieu said.

"It's nice to see it freestanding in its natural environment, the way it's supposed to." 

The sculpture was placed on a large concrete footing below the ground, with four large anchor bolts. (Submitted by Christine Trainor)

Beaulieu said it's important to have communities like the town of Stratford investing in pieces of public art like this. 

"It's a fantastic opportunity because these pieces live for a long time. Most of the work I exhibit, it's up for exhibit maybe one month, three months," he said. 

"But these ones are on display the entire time and that's when art lives, when people can look at it, not when it's in my barn, in a crate." 

Beaulieu said the bird is positioned so that there's a slight lean on the pole, and that way the weight is bearing straight down rather than pulling away or pulling backwards, so it's able to hold the weight 'quite comfortably.' (Submitted by Christine Trainor)

Beaulieu said he also likes the location of the sculpture, in a natural playground, in a conservation park. 

"People will come into nature and engage with that," Beaulieu said. 

"The idea of a conservation area is not to keep the people out, but to have it so that people can appreciate nature."

Beaulieu says it's nice to finally see the red-winged blackbird freestanding in its natural environment. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Project delayed

The Town of Stratford paid $15,000 for the public art installation at Fullerton's Creek Conservation Park. 

"I think it's wonderful," said Stratford Mayor Steve Ogden.

"We had a nationally recognized artist, Gerald Beaulieu, do it. He lives here in Stratford, he's done a wonderful job and I think people are going to be really inspired."

This is the plan for the natural playground at Fullerton's Creek Conservation Park. It will be similar to one in Bonshaw Hills Provincial Park. (Town of Stratford)

As for the rest of the natural playground, the mayor said the town is hoping work will resume whenever the Atlantic bubble is restored.

"We had planned to have it completed by now, but because of COVID, because of the busting of the Atlantic bubble, it's a Nova Scotia company that's doing it," Ogden said.

"It's really difficult for them to to work on it, so we're hoping to have it done by spring, summer of next year."

The blackbird marks the spot where the natural playground will eventually stand. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

As for Beaulieu, he said his next project will be a large dinosaur, but that too will have to wait for spring.

Like the massive red-winged blackbird, it's going to be too big for his workshop.

More from CBC P.E.I.


Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.


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