CAMPOBELLO ISLAND, New Brunswick — Fifty years ago, Mike Calder was walking this Canadian island’s beaches collecting chunks of driftwood to sell to McCurdy’s Smokehouse.
This week, Calder is being paid to take from that same beach pieces of McCurdy’s brining shed to give to his American neighbors in Lubec.
Harper Calder & Son Construction of Welshpool, New Brunswick, began work Tuesday, planning to use an excavator on the beach near the U.S.-Canadian border patrol checkpoints on the Lubec Narrows to disassemble the roof and other elements of the shed for eventual reassembly at the McCurdy’s site in Lubec.
“We’re kind of doing it as we go because we don’t want to destroy it [the remaining structure] any more than we have to,” Calder said. “We want to salvage it.”
The shed tore away from its pilings offshore at McCurdy’s, designated as a U.S. national historical landmark, and floated down the narrows to the island in the wake of a Jan. 4 blizzard.
The president of Lubec Landmarks, a nonprofit organization raising money to preserve McCurdy’s, called a handful of people who had taken remains from the building “vandals,” creating some bad feelings on both sides of the border. That president, Rachel Rubeor, has since apologized.
Calder said that having worked decades ago for McCurdy’s underscores the close relationship border Lubec-area residents had with McCurdy’s, which is on the U.S. Register of Historic Places. The nation’s last traditional herring smokehouse, McCurdy’s closed in 1991 after about 85 years.
Calder’s three-man crew found plenty of items within the structure that are of historic value, said Robin Kelsey, a Meddybemps resident who has dual citizenship.
“It is still in really nice shape, a lot of it,” Kelsey said. “It was so rugged built 100 years ago. We don’t build things today that are that rugged built. It is pinned together. It has spikes in it that are 2 feet long.”
Kelsey works for the Old Town company that will reassemble a reduced-scale version of the brining shed in Lubec and is the company’s representative in Canada.
The wooden roof and its supports will be difficult to cut apart for transport, Kelsey said.
The most valuable items, Calder said, might be the half-dozen brining tanks in and around the structure.
As part of the brining process, the tanks held herring offloaded from fishing boats that would pull up to sluices that carried the fish into the processing plant. The herring were also smoked in wood chips created occasionally by driftwood, picked or packaged for shipping around the world by McCurdy’s 30 workers.
Calder and Kelsey credited Canadians for setting aside any salvage claims they might make to help restore a piece of American history important to the people of Lubec — although someone still had a little fun with the controversy.
Atop the chimney on the section of the shed’s roof resting on the beach, someone has hung a miniature Canadian flag — and a black skull and crossbones’ pirate banner.
“It is good for Lubec. It means a lot to them. They should have it back. The people of Campobello are really good to allow them to come and do this,” Kelsey said.
“They’re good people. In the end, it’s a great story.”
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