Skip to main content

Michael Dunn

Michael Dunn smiling in the woods
  • Category: Presidents’ Alumni Award
  • UVic degree: Bachelor of Arts in Geography, 1974
  • Current hometown: Mayne Island, BC       
  • Birthplace: Victoria, BC

About Michael

Since graduating from UVic almost 50 years ago, Michael Dunn has been a highly respected community leader for conservancy issues and environmental stewardship. Through individual and collaborative efforts, he has helped protect over 30,000 hectares of coastal land and over 1.16 million hectares of marine space for the public good in perpetuity.

His accomplishments include the establishment of the Scott Islands Marine National Wildlife Area and the creation of the Gulf Islands Centre of Ecological Learning. In addition to decades of public service as a conservation professional with both Environment Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service, he continues to volunteer, educate future generations and work actively with local grass-roots organizations and Indigenous communities.

A passionate life-long learner, Michael has worked as a naturalist and community educator for 40 years, developing creative and fun experiential environmental education programs and activities for learners of all ages.

What's your favourite memory of being a UVic student?

1969 was my first year, coming right out of high school, and all of a sudden I had the freedom to learn on my own terms. I’ve always been a lifelong learner, and I already had a naturalist aptitude. The profs that I had interactions with, particularly in the Geography Department, challenged, encouraged and supported my drive and gave me the freedom to do a lot of things. That was ground-breaking for me.

How did your experiences at UVic shape who you are or contribute to future successes?

Because of all that encouragement, the knowledge I gained of the concepts and processes that shape how humans interact with the environment and my love of nature I came up with some creative ideas in terms of what I wanted to do for term assignments. And [my professors] didn’t try to discourage me; they let me pursue them whether the outcomes were good or bad. So I learned a lot about myself. I learned about inclusivity and the value of teamwork to come up with an idea and then create a team to make it happen.

I also learned about being hopeful and open to new ideas and that anything is possible if you have the drive and the ability. Most important was understanding the importance of and need for knowledge and communicating that knowledge to a wide audience. This is where I applied my experience and developed creative ways to successfully accomplish many outcomes.

My career and life works are essentially grounded in my passion for nature, learning and the collaborative processes I created. And even though I’ve been retired for a long time, I’m still engaged in these good works as a volunteer.

What skills or traits are needed to be good at what you do?

Openness, inclusiveness, what I would call active listening skills, being non-judgmental and creating safe environments for things to happen are key skills. Coupled with these, I would add the ability to communicate concisely and accurately complex ideas and to understand the knowledge or information required to complete the work.

With all this at play, that’s when creative things can happen which then generate the excitement, commitment and confidence to collaborate as a group. Leading by example and not by command is also crucial to sustainable and successful outcomes. The legacy of successes I’ve been involved with is a result of this kind of work.

What is the best advice someone has given you?

Look at your life from 3 perspectives: your career, your life’s work and your daily practice. Your career supports your standard of living/family or your life’s work. Your life’s work is your passion or heart-driven desire you carry your whole life. Your daily practice is how you live, your lifestyle. The key is to live your life aligning as closely as possible these 3 elements. Do not assume your career path is automatically your life’s work or that your daily practice is unrelated to your career path. Don’t be driven by the expectation that you need to do a particular thing without being aware of what your true passion is and if the expectation supports that passion.

This perspective resonated with me and has guided me. In my case, I was privileged to be able to align my passion for nature conservation and education with my professional career and continue on that path of conservation and community resilience building since retiring. This is my life’s work.

Do you have a mantra that you follow?

When my children were born, I wanted them to be able to have the same experiences and opportunities in nature that I had growing up. So I would do a self-assessment at the end of each day: “Have I done something positive for nature today?” I’ve been doing this mantra since 1980.

What is something you do for others?

I volunteer at our local daycare, and I work with toddlers. We do forest and beach walks, and I bring them up to the wetlands on my property. It’s the free exploration of nature with the children and sharing our experiences and understandings.  

What’s your advice to a younger person uncertain about their future?

The key is knowing your passion. That’s what I encourage. I could say be hopeful but recognize that hope in itself is not optimism, because there’s no action to it. So channel your passion, remain positive with the knowledge that following your passion is worth doing and good works result. You’re not doing it through rose-coloured glasses. There is proof that people who get together for positive outcomes make differences. They create hopefulness.

About the Distinguished Alumni Awards

Nominations for the 2024 awards are now closed. Nominations for the 2025 Distinguished Alumni Awards are open through Oct. 18, 2024.