Brining Shed Controversy Draws Attention of International Press

Seen here as it appeared before its Jan. 4 collapse, the brining shed sat perilously low in the water on degrading pilings. Lubec Landmarks began fervent fundraising efforts for the structure in 2016. (Photo courtesy Lubec Landmarks)

By Sarah Craighead 



A headline in last Sunday’s Wall Street Journal reads, “On This Border, The Problem Is a Shed, Not a Wall,” referring to Lubec’s wayward brining shed. After a fierce storm hit Downeast on Thursday, Jan. 4, the historic shed collapsed, then drifted to the shores of Campobello Island where it has been lodged ever since. The shed was once the first place where incoming sardines were unloaded to begin their path through the McCurdy Smokehouse complex built along Lubec’s Water Street.

The Boston Globe, the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), Bangor Daily News (BDN) and Portland Press Herald have also covered the story. And on Sunday, Jan. 14 Rachel Rubeor received a call from a news outlet in Australia.

Rubeor serves as the president of Lubec Landmarks, the volunteer-run nonprofit responsible for restoring and preserving the smokehouse complex since it acquired the property in 1995. Lubec Landmarks’ now operates it as a living history museum of the herring industry. 

McCurdy’s was the last operating smokehouse in the United States, and closed its doors in 1981 due in large part to a change in federal smokehouse regulations.

Controversy Over Salvage Rights

Controversy and tempers erupted last week when the shed landed on the shores of Campobello Island and some people claimed legal salvage rights, working to dismantle parts of structure. Lubec Landmarks had hoped to somehow move the structure off of the beach and back to the U.S. to use as raw materials for building a replica of the shed.

In a Jan. 11 BDN article titled “Scavengers now threaten Lubec landmark swept to Canadian island by blizzard,” Rubeor was quoted saying that obstacles to saving the structure were “exacerbated by the influx of vandals who with chainsaws want to cannibalize our building.” Both the headline and Rubeor’s statement touched off a minor international incident, waged mostly on the local Facebook page, Lubec Community Bulletin Board.

Rubeor issued a formal apology on the same page, stating she had intended to criticize specific people, not the entire island of Campobello. 

The Lubec Selectboard, on which Rubeor also serves, also used Facebook to apologize for hurt feelings resulting from the article. The board also asked Rubeor to take a one-month leave of absence. Lubec Selectboard Chair Carol Dennison could not be reached for comment regarding the legal precedent or specific grounds for the request.

 The Canadian government approved two key permit requests on Monday, Jan. 15, so Peter Thornton of Old Town and Harper Calder & Son Construction of Campobello will work together to remove the salvageable parts of the structure beginning Tuesday, Jan. 16.

“I’m going to salvage it all,” said Thornton. “Some of the big beams in the bottom we’re going to saw into timbers to rebuild it with, a scale model.” Because the building materials are now above the high tide line of the Roosevelt International Park, one of the permits authorizing its removal must come from park officials.

Heather Tenan of Lubec said she was heartbroken by the shed’s collapse because she had worked side-by-side with Rubeor writing grants in the hopes of saving it. They succeeded in winning a $15,000 grant from the Maine Communities Foundation, and fundraising efforts continue via the Lubec Landmarks GoFundMe page. The funds will be used to pay for the reconstruction of a shed replica near the existing museum.

From the first time Tenan toured the smokehouse complex, it became a passion for her. “I learned the most amazing stories of the history of that sardine factory, I fell in love with it,” she said. “What people don’t realize is that these sardines won the Civil War for north. The protein in those little tin cans are what saved the lives of those soldiers in the trenches.” 

Tenan has kept up an unlikely correspondence with the brining shed via its Facebook persona, called simply Brining Shed. The shed’s Facebook page made its appearance shortly after the physical shed collapsed. Its profile states that it is “Retired and travelling the world by sea” and that its relationship status is “separated.”

“That brining shed has been such a bright spot in this whole thing,” said Tenan. Though the true identity of the humorist behind the page remains unknown, it now has more than 400 Facebook friends who don’t hesitate to quip with the shed on a daily basis.  One commenter recently urged the shed to consider aiming for the White House. “Thank you for your humour and your diplomacy. Brining Shed for President 2020,” she said.

The shed’s response? “I’m in. Let’s make this shed great again.”

 An International Work Party

Volunteer crews consisting of people from Campobello and Lubec came out to work over the weekend when it was learned that wave action was breaking the shed apart and littering the beach with debris.

Crystal Malloch-Lahey of Campobello said she spent all day Saturday and Sunday working with other volunteers to clean up the mess on the beach. They moved the salvageable full boards to one pile, and created another pile near the stairs for local craftspeople and souvenir hunters to choose from. 

 The Canadian scallop fishing season begins on Monday, Jan. 15 and Malloch-Lahey’s two sons and husband are all fishermen, another reason she wanted to help remove debris that could become a navigational hazard. “I wanted them and all other fishermen to be safe,” she said.

During the weekend work parties, Tenan’s husband brought carafes of his hot gourmet coffee and Rubeor brought homemade cinnamon rolls to sustain the workers from the neighboring communities.

“Social media is the perfect breeding ground for escalating verbal fights, but things always blow over in our communities of Lubec and Campobello because we need each other and depend on each other,” said Malloch-Lahey, “and at the end of the day we both strive to preserve our little piece of the world, preserve our livelihood, our history and our little natural piece of God’s country, including our beaches!”