'Hostile' New Brunswick looters descend on storm-beached shed

A historic shed has fuelled international tensions on an unauthorized crossing from Lubec, Maine, to Campobello Island, N.B.

Effort underway to save historic shed from Lubec, Maine, that met with disaster in international waters

The historic brining shed on its unauthorized international journey from Lubec, Maine, to Campobello Island, N.B. (Submitted by Heather Henry)

A historic shed has fuelled international tensions on an unauthorized crossing from Lubec, Maine, to Campobello Island, N.B.

The shed built about 110 years ago was once part of the McCurdy Smokehouse complex — "the last standing herring smokehouse in the United States," said Rachel Rubeor, president of Lubec Landmarks, the non-profit that helps maintain the site.

"On Wednesday, we had that horrible storm," said Rubeor. "We had a high tide, the highest tide we've ever had, and a storm surge, and a full moon.

"It was the perfect storm for a disaster."

Since Wednesday, Jan. 3, the brining shed has been on an international adventure — drifting down the Narrows, being besieged by New Brunswickers with chain saws, and soon, with any luck, starting its journey back home.

This is the historic brining shed was seen floating down the Narrows between Lubec, Maine and Campobello Island. (Credit: Heather Henry Tenan) 0:49

'Just sailed past my house'

The shed was once a first stop for herring caught in the waters off Lubec. Herring was pickled there before being smoked, skinned and boxed up for shipping across the U.S. Since 1907, the shed had been perched on high poles above the water.

They might be very good people, but when they're on the beach with a sledgehammer and a chain saw, they're just vandals.- Rachel Rubeor, Lubec Landmarks

"I was called in the middle of the afternoon and they said, 'Rachel, it's gone," Rubeor said.

The shed had come loose from its pilings and came to rest not far from its original location. But then at the next high tide, it "let loose and wedged itself in the New England Aquarium pier," she said.

Before a salvager could come and rescue it, tragedy struck again.

The brining shed, in happier times. (Submitted by Rachel Rubeor)

"I went home at noon on Saturday and I thought, 'OK, we're good, [the salvage company] is coming tomorrow, everything will be fine," Rubeor said. "Then my phone rang. My friend Pat said, 'Rachel, the brining shed just sailed past my house.'"

Locals went down to the edge of the water and "watched it hover — it was the most eerie, unreal, sight. Ghostly would be a good word for it."

'Vandals' with chain saws

The shed ended its cross-border escapade on a beach on Campobello Island.

According to Rubeor, the treasurer of Lubec Landmarks headed to New Brunswick to survey the damage. But looters had already descended on the building, Rubeor said.

"It was a very bad scene," she said. "Many of of the people were very hostile to her. They had chain saws. They were sawing up the peak of the building, they were dismantling the chimney, which was intact, we have a picture of a car loaded with wood and bricks driving away."

The shed has been besieged by vandals since it was beached in New Brunswick, coming to rest on the shores of Campobello Island. (Submitted by Heather Henry)

Rubeor also went over and pleaded with the Campobello looters to "please, please don't do this, we're trying to save this and bring it back. Some people were very understanding, but others were just hostile."

She said the incident was "very upsetting."

"They might be very good people, but when they're on the beach with a sledgehammer and a chain saw, they're just vandals," she said.

After calls to the RCMP, the Coast Guard, the Department of Natural Resources, she said, "everyone wanted to help." 

Returning home

The historic shed has many supporters on both sides of the border.

Since Jan. 4., on a newly created Facebook page, the "shed" has been posting regular updates about its incredible journey. 

Through co-ordinated efforts, Rubeor said, crews have made arrangements to load the shed onto trucks and bring it back to Maine on Friday.

Contractors from both sides of the border will dismantle the shed and bring it back to Maine.

"That's the best possible solution," she Rubeor. "People on both sides of the bridge working together. We want to get it off the bridge as soon as possible."

The hope is that the shed can be rebuilt.

"I am bent on saving the building," she said. "Hopefully, it will be a place that people can be proud of again."

About the Author

Julia Wright

Julia Wright is a reporter based in Saint John. She has been with the CBC since 2016.