SYDNEY, N.S. — Police are investigating after a group of vandals trashed a Cape Breton business where people gather in the woods to enjoy live action role-playing dressed as warriors, wizards and all manner of medieval characters.
Mark Delaney, a player who used to create imaginary battles and adventures for the Underworld Cape Breton: Tempest Grove franchise, says misguided teens are likely to blame — but he's worried some of them may have been motivated by hatred.
The camp, on private property near a secluded lake southwest of Sydney, was recently wrecked and spray-painted with a homophobic slur, crude images and obscene insults.
"Hate is involved in this discussion," said Delaney, who also works as actor at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site in eastern Cape Breton.
Delaney said a significant number of the business's clients are members of the LGBTQ community.
"It does bear all the signs of hate," said Delaney, who is originally from Glace Bay, N.S.
"They are deliberately intimidating and trying to stop something that someone else is doing and they're going out of their way to do it. Even though this is kids being stupid, I really think there's something else going on in the homes of at least the ringleaders."
Amid smashed shelving and furniture, a tarp used for a makeshift tent has been spray-painted with the word "nerd." A nearby bench has a more blunt message: "F--k the wizards." And a stack of planks was spray-painted with a misspelled "Your gay."
As well, a large wooden door — designed and built by Delaney to look like a medieval gate — was pulled out of the ground and toppled.
Cape Breton Regional Police did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Business co-owner Jeff Bushnik posted a video on social media, showing several people emerging from the wooded site near a dirt road and then speeding away in several cars. One of the vehicles appears to swerve toward Bushnik as he records the intruders leaving.
Bushnik said it would be difficult for him to conclude the vandals were motivated by hatred.
"Without knowing the kids, I don't think we can know," he said in an interview. "There was at least one homophobic slur up there ... It's certainly possible."
However, he said he was surprised by the relatively young age of those he saw leaving the site.
"For youth today, I thought they would be over that ancient prejudice ... It's disheartening," he said.
Player Steven Rolls said there's been an escalation in the vandalism in recent weeks.
"There's always been some tension between nerds and others," he said, adding that most of the players he knows are members of the LGBTQ community.
"They are people who feel like outsiders elsewhere. We have individuals who have anxiety issues and won't go out in public ... but they'll come to the woods with us to feel comfortable."
Meanwhile, role-players from across the country are pitching in to help their aggrieved comrades rebuild their village, which is now three years old.
A GoFundMe campaign, set up by Bushnik on Monday night, had exceeded its $5,000 goal by early Thursday and was closing in on $6,000.
"I am a nerd and we nerds stick together," said one post on the site.
Said another: "So sad that there are people out there whose lives are so empty, they have nothing better to do than destroy something that brings others joy. The outpouring of donations shows, once again, that there are more good people in this world than bad."
— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax