One is an island, the other a small town on the mainland. One is in Canada, the other the United States. Both are isolated, suffering a long and discouraging economic decline, lacking the young people necessary to maintain local schools, wondering what the future holds.
Campobello, a Canadian island, and Lubec, the easternmost point in the United States, are linked by a bridge, share a heritage, and sit in the most beautiful place on earth. It’s 7:30 a.m., and I am on the deck outside our second-floor bedroom at Lubec Bay Cottage, staring out over the ocean with Campobello’s Liberty Point to my left and Lubec’s West Quoddy Head to my right.
The gap between the two symbolizes the principle problem here. These two places are in different countries, a seemingly impossible barrier to cooperation and shared prosperity.
Yet the two are linked in so many ways. My grandfather Henry Searles was a native of Campobello who married a girl from Lubec, my Nana, Edith Johnson. Lubec was a thriving town when my mother was born here.
Main Street was packed with businesses, but it was fishing and the oceanfront fish-packing plants that dominated the town and provided many of the jobs. My grandmother packed sardines, and my grandfather was a fish inspector.
From my perch this morning, I can see the house that my great-grandfather and great-grandmother, Ephraim and Ada Johnson, lived in after they left West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, where they kept the light for three decades.
Today, that house is owned by summer visitors. My mother’s house, now a cellar hole, stood just up the road from here in an open field that is now full of summer cabins and homes, all owned by folks from away (some of whom live elsewhere in Maine).
The house we are renting this week was once a farm. Now it’s a “cottage” rented by visitors, all of whom, judging by the guest book, are out-of-staters, except for Linda and I.
Yes, Lubec and Campobello are getting by as summer destinations. And we are thankful for that. Tourism boosts the economy in the summer, but no restaurant is able to stay open year-round.
Lubec High School closed a few years ago. The kids are now bused to Machias. Urchins ran their course and the packing plant closed. The health care center is now the town’s largest employer.
This morning, as the sun was rising over Campobello, painting the sky and land a stunning orange, I saw only three lobster boats leave the harbor. Even commercial fishing has declined substantially here, as herring and other species disappeared.
Residents cobble together a living picking blueberries, growing Atlantic salmon, making Christmas wreaths, digging blood worms and clams, serving tourists. It’s not an easy life amidst the splendid scenery. You can’t eat the scenery, as they say.
On a summer visit as a kid, I can remember laughing when I first spotted a Campobello gas station named Irving. What a funny name for a gas station, I thought. Little did I know.
Isn’t it odd that some Maine industries are now dominated by Canadian companies? Irving owns many gas stations and more than 1 million acres of forests in Maine. A Canadian company owns all of our major aquaculture facilities.
Which begs the question: When schools in Lubec and Campobello were struggling to stay open, why couldn’t they have combined on a solution? When we both have too many lobsters, why are blockades and confrontation the answer? With so much in common, why can’t cooperation be the governing word, rather than competition?
How can we possibly be considering an entrance fee at U.S. border crossings, knowing the hardship it would cause for our Canadian friends and shoppers on Campobello?
For that matter, why must we relentlessly stop cross-border shoppers from bringing their purchases home? If we can have duty-free shops in airports, why not a duty-free zone encompassing Lubec and Campobello?
There’s even a good example of how this could — and should — work. Roosevelt International Park is advertised as “a symbol of the close U.S.-Canadian relationship.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s summer home on Campobello, and its nearby 2,000 acres of oceanfront forests and quiet beaches, is managed by a commission composed of American and Canadian members and preserved through the commitment of both countries.
If we can commit to preserving an American president’s summer home, why can’t we commit to preserving these two communities, their schools, their jobs and their futures?
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.