For Guelph-based Dionne Daley, camping, hiking, and canoeing are all part of growing up, but she knows that’s not necessarily the case for other black kids.
“My brother and I were the only ones who looked like we were doing all this stuff,” she recalls.
It’s one of the reasons Daley founded the BIPOC Outdoor Gear Library to provide outdoor gear—everything from backpacks and water bottles to skis and sleds to tents and sleeping bags—for Black and Indigenous people and people of color.
As someone who camps and even works in Algonquin Park, Daley says she’s been asked for advice on outdoor activities by other people of color. She found herself lending her own equipment and sharing her knowledge, and it occurred to her that there might be enough demand to set up a lending library.
But it was also about increasing the representation of BIPOC people in outdoor recreation.
Daley believes that being a white mother helped open her door to the world of camping and wilderness adventures, but she understands that many other people of color don’t have the same sense of belonging to that world.
There are a number of reasons for this.
For blacks and other people of color, being in the wild has historically been a condition of necessity rather than fun, says Daley.
“For a lot of people of color, it’s been a long journey to get to a place where they feel comfortable,” she says.
Camping as a recreation has historically been a white activity, maintained as such even with racist policies such as campground segregation, and while segregation no longer exists, outdoor spaces may not feel entirely inviting either.
In a post on the Gear Library Facebook page, University of Guelph student Hilary McGregor describes how being in the outdoors is an important part of her identity and well-being, noting that she grew up participating in many outdoor activities activities participated.
“However, as a woman of color, I have always worried that I am not welcome outdoors,” she writes.
“The Outdoor Gear Library was the first time I heard about other BIPOC experiences in the great outdoors and the fear and vulnerability that come with just wanting to participate and experience outdoor spaces,” writes McGregor, noting the efforts of the library to raise awareness of and break down barriers.
“There are so many obstacles, the least of which is equipment, but it’s a big one,” says Daley.
Through gear drives and donations, the library has amassed a collection of equipment, and Daley says the hope is to be up and running this month in time for the long weekend.
It will operate on the same system as the Guelph Tool Library, which lends household, kitchen and garden tools to its members, but the BIPOC Outdoor Gear Library will be free.
“We don’t want to constantly introduce barriers,” explains Daley.
Like the tool library, the gear library hopes to make its way into the credit economy, she says.
Currently, the library’s collection is housed in a room donated by local food security initiative SEED at 69 Huron Street.
A cogwheel ride focusing on water-related activities is planned as part of the 2Rivers Festival, but other donations — including funds that would enable the organization to purchase things it needs — are also welcome.
A BIPOC paddling excursion will also be part of the festival and will provide an opportunity to connect with potential library members.
“While the library is the focal point, so to speak, building the community is the most important thing,” says Daley.
She hopes it will also feel like a safe place where people can ask questions, learn and not feel judged.
“It can be very simple, but people need to know that they can start somewhere and not worry about doing something wrong,” she says.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: When the Mercury Tribune noticed that the BIPOC Outdoor Gear Library was scheduled to participate in the upcoming 2Rivers Festival, they wanted to learn more about the soon-to-be-launched library and share that information with the public.