Despite brisk -25°C temperatures on a recent sunny Saturday in Overbrook, the new popup location of the Ottawa Outdoor Gear Library was bumping.
The new site, at the Overbrook Community Centre, offers a full range of sports gear to the community, including skis, snowshoes, and more available for pick up on Tuesdays from 2:30-6:30pm and Saturdays from 12-4pm.
When Apt613 stopped by on January 15, three enthusiastic users were returning cross-country skis they had borrowed for the day to explore the nearby Rideau Ski Trail. The first-time skiers raved about their adventure.
“The response has been super great,” said Sherry Wu, Library Coordinator for the Ottawa Outdoor Gear Library. “Everyone seems to have been really excited. A lot of people want to get out and use the trail, especially during COVID.”
The project has been mostly volunteer-run but, thanks to some funding, they’ve been able to hire three staff, including Wu, who is responsible for the library’s inventory.
The small organization is a certified Living Wage Employer, ensuring all team members are compensated in a just way for their work.
The Gear Library aims to make the outdoors more inclusive and accessible. Their mission is “to respond to barriers experienced by racialized and marginalized communities to nature-based experiences, land-based programming, outdoor recreation, and the associated mental and physical health benefits derived from time outside.”
“[The library] makes it a lot less of a barrier to try things like cross-country skiing, which can be a bit expensive if you buy the whole kit,” says Wu.
People who grew up with money will look you in the eyes and ask you something insane like “do you ski?”
— Michael Benjamin (@mfbenji) January 14, 2022
She went on to explain that people have been pretty patient and friendly as they sort out kinks and get the library running smoothly.
Inequalities in outdoor recreation aren’t limited to Ottawa. Research suggests that at the competitive level in Canada, cross-country skiing is often a White and wealthy sport, which means potential new BIPOC skiers may have fewer role models to identify with.
However, some notable exceptions exist. For example, Roseanne Allen of the Gwich’in First Nation made history in 1968. At 13, she was the youngest Canadian to win gold in the five-kilometre nordic ski at the Canadian Junior Championships. Her accomplishment was all the more notable given that she was also a residential school survivor.
To ensure everyone feels welcome in Ottawa’s outdoor spaces, the Gear Library is partnering with the nearby Rideau Winter Trail and several BIPOC community groups. This programming will offer an inclusive and safe space for people to give these activities a try, and Wu says many of the events have quickly filled up.
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Wu says that while anyone is welcome to use the library, it is intended to reach a specific audience: “We were born out of a need in the community… we hope that the people that are using this understand that we are really trying to focus on those communities that need this kind of service, especially racialized and marginalized communities.”
At the virtual launch of the Rideau Trail on January 10, the collaboration with the Gear Library was lauded, with both groups sharing a strong desire to reduce barriers to outdoor recreation.
Councillor Rawlson King, one of the volunteer organizers of the Rideau Trail, says further outreach is planned to neighbourhoods like Overbrook to promote access to the Rideau Trail. “We need more barrier-free recreation possibilities,” he says.
Library users must go to the Overbrook Community Centre to both pick up and return the equipment, but it is conveniently situated only 700m from the Rideau Trail.
The library continues to welcome donations for all things outdoors and is especially appreciative of waxless skis and ski boots.
With the Ottawa Outdoor Gear Library revved up and in gear for the winter season, users are welcome to pop by to borrow what they need to enjoy Ottawa’s snow.
The popup branch of the Ottawa Outdoor Gear Library is open at the Overbrook Community Centre on Tuesdays from 2:30-6:30pm and Saturdays from 12-4pm.