A community-run program is in the works to provide greater access to camping and recreation gear for BIPOC residents.
Once up and running, the Guelph BIPOC Outdoor Gear Library will allow participants to check out equipment for outdoor activities, like camping, cross-country skiing, fishing and more. The program is inspired by similar libraries established in Ottawa, Toronto and across the United States.
Dionne Daley, who is organizing the library in Guelph, says the program aims to improve access to outdoor spaces and activities for Black, Indigenous and people of colour.
“I think there’s this idea that, BIPOC community in particular, have a lot more things up against them, as far as access to proper funding or to opportunity, or to even knowing what they need, there’s just a lot of barriers in the way,” she says.
“It’s common that people want to enjoy these activities, but if you think about everything that is involved with it, it’s either too cost-inefficient, don’t know where to start, where to put that investment in before you try it, that sort of thing.”
The program is also an opportunity for residents to experience outdoor recreation in a way they may not have been exposed to for cultural reasons.
As a member of the BIPOC community, Daley recalls growing up with opportunities to participate in outdoor activities.
“As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that access to the outdoors isn’t there for everybody, particularly the BIPOC community,” she says, “When I look back at who I saw on the trails and the camping grounds, it wasn’t a lot of Black, Indigenous or people of colour.”
Daley also mentions times when working at Algonquin Park when people would question what she was doing in these outdoor spaces.
“I would get people coming up to me all the time saying, ‘You camp? Black people camp? Like, why? Are you lost?’” says Daley, “People were making all these assumptions, and … in a lot of ways, are racist remarks that have nothing to do with why I am in these spaces.”
Daley also points to the story of Christen Cooper, a Black man who was bird watching in New York City when a white woman called the police on him.
“It’s very unfortunate that someone who’s just enjoying the outdoors, like anyone, would be viewed as unsafe, doing something that anyone should be able to enjoy doing.”
Over the years, Daley says she has been connecting with people who have been making efforts to diversify the outdoors. Currently, she sits on the board of the Yorklands Community Green Hub and the Guelph Outdoor School.
“A lot of these folks have started to initiate programs like the libraries, to help give access to gear knowing it’s super expensive to actually get into some of these outdoor activities,” she says.
“I recently got off the phone with the one who started the Ottawa library and he had some good ideas about how to operate it out of Guelph.”
While she is still working out the details, Daley says she is focusing now on getting the word out about the program and collecting donations to build single-day or multi-day camp kits. A full list of items needed can be found here.
“I’ve already got a lot of great feedback,” says Daley about online and in-person response, “People are reaching out in all of those forums with options to donate, or people who they know that have extra gear that they would be willing to donate, so the fact that it’s starting to get shared around it’s fantastic.”
“The more people know about it, the more likely it is that I can build this up quickly and make it available as well.”
Interested in making a donation to the Guelph BIPOC Outdoor Gear Library? Email [email protected].
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