The president of a Lubec nonprofit group expressed regret Thursday after her words describing “vandals” who “cannibalize” a beached historical landmark apparently offended some residents of Canada’s Campobello Island.
Lubec Landmarks president Rachel Rubeor said her comments on Wednesday were not intended to describe all islanders, merely the handful who had taken away portions of the McCurdy’s Smokehouse brining shed that had washed up on Canadian shores earlier this week.
“I can sympathize with them feeling I was pointing the finger,” Rubeor said Thursday. “Part of our concern was that the people in the building were endangering themselves and I am sure they would have been quick to blame us for that.”
Among five McCurdy’s buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, the shed is valuable because it is part of the last traditional smoked-herring facility in the United States.
Rubeor described “an influx of vandals who with chainsaws want to cannibalize” the building in her letter to U.S. Sen. Angus King seeking help Wednesday in restoring the building to its spot in Lubec Narrows.
The building had broken free of its pilings in a Jan. 4 blizzard.
Two contractors, a Canadian and American, will remove the shed’s remains from the Campobello beach and return it to her organization’s site off Lubec by Jan. 17, Rubeor said.
Rubeor described Campobello and Lubec residents as “the best people on the face of the Earth, but if those wonderful people take a chainsaw or a sledgehammer and they want to destroy a historical building, then they are vandals and they are cannibalizing.”
“And I would feel the same way had it been here in Lubec,” she added.
Carol Dennison, chairwoman of the Lubec Board of Selectmen, issued an apology for Rubeor’s comments on behalf of the board.
Dennison said that the board is “deeply sorry for anything that has caused any sadness from Lubec for our Canadian friends.”
A selectwoman, Rubeor was speaking only as president of Lubec Landmarks, not the board, Dennison said.
Some social media commenters responded scathingly to Rubeor. Apparently insulted by her comments, they said that Lubec Landmarks had allowed the shed to disintegrate for 25 years.
“Well they let it rot and now it’s a safety hazard. And one person’s definition of trash might be someone else treasure,” one commenter said. “It’s trash, garbage to Canada and that’s where it sits … in Canada. And if anyone [who] thinks it’s going to make it a trip back across the narrows is obviously smoking something.”
They equated the shed’s debris to driftwood, legally claimed as would be any other flotsam to wash ashore. Rubeor’s alleged vandals and scavengers were actually beachcombers doing what beachcombers do, and by removing some of the building debris, they were reducing a potential navigation hazard in the narrows, they said.
“The main issue is the threat to our fishing industry and the safety of the men and women on the water not only in our community but the surrounding communities who also fish in the area,” Campobello Island resident Chelsea Stanley said.
Both nations’ Coast Guards and other local and federal agencies were notified of the shed’s imperiled state on Jan. 5, so any threats to sea lanes and the environment, if they actually existed, would be addressed. A U.S. Coast Guard aircraft overflew the debris on Wednesday, Lubec town administrator Renee Gray said.
Local criticism of Lubec Landmarks’ efforts to revitalize McCurdy’s is off-base, said Heather Henry Tenan, 53, a former newspaper reporter who writes grants for the non-profit.
Despite being staffed by volunteers — all locals working part time — the organization has redeveloped two of the site’s five buildings, turning one into an art gallery. It has drawn grant money to revitalize the shed and helped the building get on the national historic properties list and a list of Maine’s most endangered historic sites, said Tenan, who has dual citizenship and families on both sides of the border.
“It’s all a work in progress,” she said.
Tensions over the site arise from the inevitable clash between artists and tourists who populate Lubec’s emerging economy and the more traditional but struggling communities — fishing and clamming — that remain, Tenan said.
McCurdy’s has a mixed reputation, being both a place of community pride and ― in the words of some locals ― a sweatshop, Rubeor said.
Raising more money would mean pressing residents of Lubec for more contributions, a difficult thing to do in the impoverished local economy, Rubeor said.
All of the historic designations and publicity “doesn’t give us money. We can’t do anything unless we get that. So that’s the bottom line,” Rubeor said.
That leaves Lubec Landmarks facing it latest challenge.
“Our anticipation is to rebuild the brining shed and put it in a place to put together a living museum to tell the story of the fishing industry, the maritime heritage, of the Down East,” Rubeor said. “That hasn’t changed.”
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