Lester Tate built this shed in 1922. Here he rigged his gear to fish tons of lobster, scallops, and cod out of the Bay of Fundy over many years. His son Myhron and grandsons, Mervin, Paul, and Bobby did the same. Mervin’s son Adam Tate helped rebuild the wharf ten years ago, before the property fell into the hands of the salmon farming industry. I grew up in and around this shed.In his old age, Lester made model sailing ships here for each of his descendants; Lester’s father and grandfather had been captains of sailing schooners in the 19th century, transporting salt fish and cement to the Caribbean and returning with rum and molasses. His uncles shipwrecked off Cape Hatteras in the 1980′s and later hosted the Wright Brothers’ experiments with air flight, they served as ballast on the first attempts, making them the first airline passengers. This drawing of Lester working was published in The New Yorker in the 5o’s.
The shed has not been used for years. Salmon gear is stored on the wharf and on the land, but the shed has gone neglected. Last year I wrote a proposal to Cook’s Aquaculture, which they accepted on generous terms: the Tate family will now be able to restore the shed and pass on a bit of their seafaring heritage to future generations.
The building requires some maintenance, new posts, windows and floorboards, but with a few donations for materials and the highly qualified labor of family members who are fishermen and boat builders, we should be able to keep the structure solid. Lester was smart when he built it; he intentionally left gaps in the floorboards so on the Spring Tides or in a storm surge, the shed wouldn’t get washed out to sea, it would simply invite the water in for a friendly visit and let it flow away. The question that remained was: what would be the purpose of keeping the shed? Would it simply be a place for old men to have an occasional cup of bad coffee and repeat oft told stories?
Over the last couple of years, the local teenagers (my friends) had been making the shed their private clubhouse, and sometimes those evenings got out of hand, so windows were getting broken out and doors torn off their hinges. A property that looks abandoned can get treated cruelly; I suppose there’s a parallel with people. This summer I finally got it through their heads that in future years this was to become their shed, and that it was in all of our interests to keep it standing. So after some false starts, they took it on as their own project and boarded up the windows, first with duct tape and then more sturdily. Still, the floor was a mess of years layered upon one another – Lester would have been appalled. I felt I was the only one left to speak for him. Then, a stroke of luck: in July, three kittens were born in the shed.
The neighborhood kids, this time the 7-13 year old crowd, started coming down to feed and care for the kittens. They knew I was trying to clean up; still, I was surprised when they showed up at my door asking for a broom and a shovel. In the following days, as they worked hard sweeping and nailing, I started hanging some of the “old” objects on the many rusty nails protruding from the walls and ceiling. They soon got the idea, and would carefully go through the trash for anything “old.” When they found something, instead of taking it from them, I’d tell them to find a place to hang it themselves. Then one day, a nine year old girl came to me, broom in hand, face lit up so bright, and said, “Peter, Peter, I know what this is! It’s “THE CHILDREN’S MUSEUM!”
I know a good idea when it’s shouted in my face, and that was it. That’s what Lester’s shed will become, what it already is: The Children’s Museum at Tate Shed. Already questions of income and governance. They want to sell lemonade and there’s a dispute over who will have a key. I tried to pass a rule that the younger you are, the more votes you have, but the 13 year old objected. What fun to come.