Dr. Katherine Dunster

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Service to the Community or the Public on Behalf of the Profession

While there was no landscape architecture program at UBC during Dr. Dunster’s undergraduate degree, there was Dr. John Wesley Neill in the Horticulture Department. The last year in the Bachelor of Recreation Education program required an internship and having followed the CMHC-funded adventure playground work of Polly Hill, Cornelia Hahn-Oberlander, and Heinz Berger, Dr. Dunster wanted to learn more. She attended West Van Parks in 1976 and spent a year shadowing Heinz Berger. She was tasked with developing a plan for a new community. The site was a forest, with a stream and waterfall. Upon presenting her plan, which was “Do nothing, except fix up the informal paths and trails”, the faculty were appalled. Heinz Berger laughed and said, “you pass, and when you are ready, go to Guelph.”

In 1984 she enrolled at the University of Guelph and, as part of the rebellious class of 1987, was mentored by Victor Chanasyk, Jack Milliken, Jim Taylor, Cameron Man and Maurice Nelischer. Her master’s research was titled “Rethinking Regions: An Ecological Approach to Landscape Conservation”, building on several summers of field work with the Regional Municipality of Waterloo as they planned a network of environmentally sensitive areas as envisioned by Bob Dorney. 

In 1987, she enrolled at the University of Toronto’s Department of Geography where she shifted into the science of contemporary biogeography and plant ecology, joined the OALA and supplemented her teaching assistant’s salary and scholarships with contracts at Parks Canada. During that time, she built a portfolio of work that is still relevant today, including PhD field work on the dunes of Point Pelee National Park, Pelee Island, and in the Pinery/Grand Bend area of Lake Huron. Additionally, she had two public realm designs built that solidified her philosophy of design, such as the Gosling Wildlife Gardens at the University of Guelph Arboretum, a design competition she won in 1986 (https://www.uoguelph.ca/arboretum/collectionsandresearch/gwghistory) In 1992 she successfully defended her dissertation and became the second landscape architect (after Bob Brown) and first woman in Canada to receive a PhD with a double major in Biogeography and Plant Ecology from the University of Toronto.  

When Bob Dorney passed away, his family asked Dr. Dunster to design a small memorial garden for him outside the Environmental Studies Ecology Lab on the Waterloo campus. The garden was built in 1988 and recruited numbers of volunteers, evoking the true spirit of Bob by rescuing and borrowing plants to make it all happen on a zero budget (https://uwaterloo.ca/ecology-lab/naturalized-gardens/robert-s-dorney-ecology-garden). 

After those early-career designs, Dr. Dunster shifted practice from place-making to place-saving. Since 1992 and coming home to BC, she has worked for all levels of government and several ENGOs, both in-house and as a consultant mostly on ecological landscape planning and management projects ranging from species- and ecosystems-at-risk work to national parks planning studies and everything in between. Her focus has been to find ways to translate the science into plain language, and numerous reports, book chapters, articles, and publications were written along the way. As a member of the BCSLA, she has served as President, CSLA Board Director, chair of the BCSLA CE Committee and Chair of the CSLA Congress on Reconciliation in 2019.

In 2013, she joined Kwantlen Polytechnic University to lead a unique Bachelor of Horticulture Science (Urban Ecosystems) degree that embodies experiential education, with opportunities to de-school and open student minds to self-directed learning and free-range critical thinking. She puts theory into action every day as students design, plan, build, and manage a suite of interconnected blue-green infrastructure campus projects that have the goal of decolonizing and indigenizing a colonial settler agricultural landscape located on a problematic floodplain home to a salmon stream. 


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