Michael Dunn (BA '74) honoured as a Presidents' Alumni Award winner


(left to right) Education Librarian, Pia Russell; President’s Alumni Award winner, 
Michael Dunn (BA ’74); Geography Librarian, Daniel Brendle-Moczuk

by: Pia Russell, Education Librarian, and Daniel Brendle-Moczuk, Geography Librarian

“I lived in the library during my geography degree at UVic,” says Michael Dunn (BA ’74), the Libraries’ nominee for a 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award. On April 13, the UVic Alumni Association celebrated the remarkable accomplishments of 16 graduates across three categories: the Presidents' Alumni Award, the Emerging Alumni Award, and the Indigenous Community Alumni Award.

Michael was honoured as a Presidents' Alumni Award winner for his long commitment to environmental stewardship. He is a proud 1974 graduate from UVic with a Bachelor of Arts in Geography and has a lifetime of exceptional contributions for ecological conservancy along British Columbia’s coast. Born and raised in Victoria and devoted to protecting the local Salish Sea places where he lives, Michael deeply embodies UVic’s value of ensuring “a better future for people and the planet.” Through individual and collaborative efforts, Michael has protected over 30,000 hectares of coast land and over 1.16 million hectares of marine space for the public good in perpetuality. Because of the tireless commitment of people like Michael, the beautiful coast we are grateful to call home is increasingly a protected, natural space.  

As Michael’s nominators, UVic librarians Pia Russell and Daniel Brendle-Moczuk joined Michael at the awards ceremony. During the event, Michael shared how as a young undergraduate he spent countless hours in McPherson Library reading for his courses and also to satisfy his insatiable scientific and philosophical curiosity. The Libraries’ collection helped him connect interdisciplinary ideas and build a broad knowledge across the environmental sciences. He joked about how familiar he became with the card catalogue drawers on geography topics as well as all the money spent photocopying.

The importance of cultural heritage institutions in shaping Michael’s passion for nature began even as a child. He recounted how often after leaving South Park Elementary at the end of the school day, he and his friends would visit the natural history museum which at that time was located a few blocks away in the east wing of the Legislative Assembly buildings. If they arrived by 4pm, they could see the rattlesnakes being fed! Curators and scientists were always freely available to help interested children review any specimens they may have gathered from Beacon Hill park or the Dallas Road beaches. On Sundays, his mother took him to the Carnegie Library on Blanshard and Yates where he would borrow arm-loads of books on animals, plants, and rocks. As current librarians actively building and working with robust digital and print collections today, it is heartwarming to know that all the resources we curate now will have lasting impacts on patrons—even our youngest community borrowers. 

Perhaps Michael’s most treasured accomplishment is as the founder and current program director of the Gulf Islands Centre of Ecological Learning which he started in 2000 and still successfully operates.  Alongside his naturalist and educational colleagues, Michael develops locally-specific, natural history, arts-based, and inquiry-focused curriculum offered each summer to children aged 6-12 on Mayne, Pender, and Saturna Islands. Over the years, nearly 5,000 children have participated in this ecological learning program, ensuring a new generation of local nature-lovers are equipped with the knowledge and experience to continue his legacy of conservation well into the future. Remarkably, Michael also finds time to volunteer each week at the Mayne Island Daycare where he is a much-loved educator for natural history and ecological learning. This fittingly defines his character of humility, quiet compassion, and a devotion to BC’s beautiful coastal histories and ecosystems.

It was a pleasure to share in Michael’s celebration with his family and friends at the UVic Alumni Association’s award ceremony. Over the sixty years of UVic’s existence, people and programs have come and gone, but the library has been an enduring constant, successfully connecting scholarly research with our students’ curiosity.  When our students have the library resources and supports for academic success, it builds a foundation for a lifetime of remarkable contributions.In many ways, every UVic graduate is an alumni of the library, and Michael Dunn demonstrates this wonderfully.

Since graduating from UVic over fifty years ago, Michael has been a highly respected community leader for conservancy issues and an influential scientist. The environmental urgency of our current global and local circumstances demand leaders that are heartfelt community-based advocates for the natural world. Michael’s contributions for scientific environmental stewardship, land conservancy, and ecological learning are highly significant and sustaining. His professional and volunteer record demonstrates leadership qualities of evidence-based scientific knowledge, the importance of respectful relationship building, and hard-won patience.

Michael is a friend, colleague, and fellow alumni whose conservation impact inspires many of us privileged to live throughout the Salish Sea region. From Michael we better understand the natural world and also learn from his example of how to work tirelessly to protect it for those who come after us.