Guelph Black Heritage Society sees rise in vandalism

Heritage Hall

Members of the Guelph Black Heritage Society say recent incidents of vandalism around their building have prompted the organization to reinstate its community patrol group.

Some incidents have involved finding feces at the building’s entrance, cut phone lines and security camera lines, discarded needles on the property — even threats and an incident where a person brandished a knife at a member in June.

“In recent days and months, it’s escalated again. I would say this past summer particularly,” Kween, executive director and social justice initiative coordinator said.

Denise Francis, president of the Guelph Black Heritage Society, said staff have also received negative messages online.

“Earlier this year and last year, we have been subjected to bullying and cyberbullying,” Francis said.

The patrol group was formed in 2020 during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement and consists of 10 volunteers who do regular checks of the building and property in the morning, afternoon and evening.

Denise Francis

Incidents of vandalism were not as constant during COVID-19 lockdowns and for part of 2021, when the group wasn’t as active, Kween said.

But since COVID-19 restrictions lifted, members of the organization have started to see a rise in vandalism again.

Some volunteers taking part in the patrol consist of neighbours and community members as well, who have been a “safety net” to the organization, Kween said.

Kween and Francis say the issue is twofold. Like many cities, Guelph is dealing with a housing and mental health crisis, which could explain why staff find items such as needles on the property, they say.

Kween said the organization recognizes its role in helping others in the community and has information and resources available for people to find food and housing supports.

But Kween and Francis say other incidents seem pointed and intentional.

“Something like human feces being left in front of our door or someone cutting our phone lines, those are very intentional,” Kween said.

“The fact is that there are so many places in our yard, but [the feces] was right where we could not miss it,” Francis added.

The organization has not reached out to police about the incidents, Kween said, noting that Black communities don’t always feel safe reporting incidents to police.

Though it’s not always easy, Francis said the organization will continue to do its advocacy and educational work in the community.