Dionne Daley has been passionate about the outdoors for most of her life.
Daley grew up in a family and white-centric community where camping, hiking, road trips and skiing were the norm.
“It wasn’t until I got older that I realized how much of a privilege I had to access a lot of those activities and the outdoors that I’ve always loved,” Daley told CBC K-W.
“In speaking with members of the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of colour] community … it became very clear that there’s a lot of barriers to accessing the outdoors and that it’s not always the most safe or welcoming space.”
Daley is now on a quest to open a library in Guelph, stocked with a wide range of recreational equipment for members of the BIPOC community to borrow, or rent for a minimal fee.
Daley said there is “a big gap in accessibility” and she hopes “to close that gap, especially in the Guelph community where there’s so much of a focus on the outdoors and nature, appreciating the land and all the benefits that come with nature connections.”
All of the equipment that comes with doing these activities are also quite expensive and that’s quite the barrier to entry– Dionne Daley, Guelph outdoor enthusiast
At the moment, Daley is focusing on getting the word out about the initiative and collecting donations to make the lending library a reality.
Daley said all cash donations will go toward purchasing new clearance items, repairs, cleaning and storage items.
According to Daley, there’s no reason why all members of the BIPOC community should not be able to enjoy the outdoors.
Daley recalls being out camping or canoeing or enjoying different activities in nature, and many times people would question her being there.
“[They] wondered if I was lost, you know, if I didn’t know what I was doing or if I needed help,” she said.
“Some are well-intentioned but oftentimes it was just sort of very clear that the outdoors was very focused on the white community and that there was an expectation that if you were of the Black, Indigenous community or you’re a person of colour, that you didn’t belong.”
Many barriers for BIPOC community
According to Daley, there are many barriers to members of the BIPOC community getting involved in outdoor activities.
“Oftentimes these types of activities first of all require transportation and a vehicle. If you are relying on public transportation that means you are not able to get up to camp grounds or ski hills, whatever the case might be,” she said.
“All of the equipment that comes with doing these activities are also quite expensive and that’s quite the barrier to entry and especially if it’s just something that you are trying out for the first time seeing if it’s right for you. if you don’t have access to that equipment easily or readily available, then you might not do it or you might think, ‘Oh maybe it’s not for me, it’s not something that I have opportunity to get into.’
“And similarly, if the people you are surrounded with are also in the same boat, that means that if you want to go camping one weekend, you can’t just call up your buddy or your friends who are bound to have all that gear because it’s not likely that you have those people in your circle,” Daley said.
Lending libraries for outdoor recreational equipment are not new to Canada.
Daley said she has drawn inspiration from a lot of other members of the outdoor community who are focused on diversifying and providing access to all communities.
“Many lending libraries have been popping up around North America. In Canada I know that there is one initiative that is starting in Toronto and there’s another one that was just launched in Ottawa, where the whole premise is to provide outdoor equipment geared specifically toward sort of camping, fishing, things like that, at either a low rental fee or basically free of charge, which would be my intent as well,” she said.
“It is more a cooperative, community-run lending library, similar to the two libraries that operate out of Guelph, but focused specifically on this type of gear and equipment.”
A launch date “will depend a lot on what I’m able to get,” Daley said.
“Realistically, because it’s just me at the moment, with no other volunteers, I imagine that I’d feel comfortable having a solid inventory and feeling good about the lending system online by this time next year. But there is always a chance of being able to launch it sooner, and maybe for the winter months where there’s activities that are specific to cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and other sort of outdoor activities.”
In 2018, Demiesha Dennis founded Brown Girl Outdoor World, which she hoped would be a place for BIPOC women — in which to be exposed to, and enjoy, a variety of outdoor activities.
“Brown Girl Outdoor World was started basically to change the narrative around representation in the outdoors and the conversation that people in the BIPOC community, especially the Black community, don’t get out as much and do outdoor activities,” she said.
Through the Toronto-based organization, Dennis runs a range of outdoor events for women over the course of the year. The events range from flat-water surfing and hiking in the summer to snowshoeing, ice-fishing and skiing in the winter. Her goal is to enable many people in the BIPOC community, who don’t have the financial means or opportunities, to participate in these activities.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.