Monique Dull '86 

Renaissance woman with a heart of gold (and green) 

By Bryan McCullough 

When Victoria, B.C. lawyer Monique Dull flew to Ottawa on business last April, she made a point of stopping by to visit her alma mater on Buena Vista Road. It was a nostalgic return to Elmwood School where, 32 years earlier, she’d graduated with her precious International Baccalaureate Diploma in hand.

“When I walked in through that front door in April, it felt like home,” she said. “Of course, that spirit of place was informed by teachers such as Heather Hoy (English), Julie Boyd (Physics), Fran Outerbridge (Math), and by administrators Milena Sigmund, Morag Gundy and Margaret White. They really watched over us.”

This daughter of Dutch immigrants, who speaks Dutch, English, French and basic German, and reads Old English and Latin, says she credits her time at the school, and her experience with the IB, as the foundation of her extraordinary professional success as a lawyer and a scholar. She’s also a dancer, a choir singer, a documentary writer, a former IB external examiner, a caregiver, a volunteer—she’s a modern renaissance woman who seems to embody the Elmwood ideal of a whole girl in a whole world. The funny thing is, Monique Dull was only at Elmwood for one academic year, 1985 – 1986.

A year earlier, when she was 16, Monique’s family had begun to pack up their lives in Toronto and move to the Netherlands in search of a better economy. The situation turned out to be no better there than what they’d left behind, and they stayed barely long enough for Monique to get her first taste of the IB at International School Beverweerd, 45 km southeast of Amsterdam. From January to June 1985, she completed the entire first year of the IB Diploma Programme, discovering that she thrived in an intense academic environment.

Back in Canada, with no established IB for girls in the GTA, her parents—her father Tony was a salesman at a department store; her mother Elly was a night nurse at a fast-paced Toronto teaching hospital—worked long hours to put the money together to send their daughter to Ottawa so that she could finish her IB Diploma at Elmwood. Monique would board off-campus with Elmwood French teacher Danièle Séguin while she completed the bulk of her IB Diploma in nine months.

“My parents made a huge sacrifice for me toward the end of their working lives, but they very much believed in the IB,” Monique said. “I had to do as well as I could, but because I happened to be the only girl that year doing the full diploma, I didn’t know what a normal study pattern looked like. Basically, I saw my job as being: Go to school, study like a mani- ac, go to bed...”

For her efforts, she ended up with a 40-point diploma with full bonus marks, and entered the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts & Sciences on a full tuition scholar- ship. When she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1990, she had the distinction of being the university’s top-ranked English graduate, and was awarded the gold medal for English. It was while she was at U of T that Monique would meet her future husband in a Latin class—something she says was pretty “square.” The two of them would do their PhDs together a few years later.

Before moving on to postgraduate studies, however, Monique took a gap year to work as a housing coordinator in a non-profit sup- ported housing unit for homeless women with mental illnesses in downtown Toronto. She says the sense of community she experienced there left a deep impression on her.

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s got to be done in the world, and you have to do your best to try to make things better,” she said. “I think of what my mum’s family did during the war to help move Dutch Jewish kids around the country so that they couldn’t be identified and put into camps. For me, working at the housing unit in Toronto was a powerful experience, and I felt privileged to be on this planet together with those women.”

This mother of two young adults continues to make community service an integral part of her life through volunteer work with schools, and generally as a caregiver and mentor. If there is such a thing as a nurturing gene, Monique Dull is its product. In 2009, in recognition of her many contributions to the community, the University of Victoria Law Students’ Society presented her with an Unsung Hero Award.
 

Monique completed both a Masters of Arts degree, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 19th century English literature as a Mellon Fellow in the Humanities at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. The focus of her PhD was the history of medicine, in which she examined medical writings and popular uses of medical writing in literature to show the emergence of more realistic characters in fiction starting around 1800.

“I really like connecting literature with the society around it,” she said. “I was looking at the different ways that people were starting to think of the activity of the body in relation to its environment, and I connected it to the development of the idea of the unconscious.”

The urge to write didn’t end with her doctoral dissertation. Monique’s insights on the physical and psychological aspects of the human condition found a new outlet when she turned her hand to writing award-winning freelance journalism while her husband was job-hunting. Some years later as a lawyer, she would co-author with Mr. Justice Keith Bracken the British Columbia Courtroom Procedure (LexisNexis, 2013), a comprehensive description of trial procedure in the Province of British Columbia that has been described as “an invaluable civil litigation reference source” for the many unwritten rules of the courtroom.

Monique’s foray into the arcane world of the law nearly a decade ago had strong family ties to grandparents on both sides of her family tree, and continues to satisfy her desire to do what is right for herself and for the people around her. Her experience with the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Law, distinguished by a list of impressive scholarships and awards, culminated with her being called to the Bar of British Columbia.

“I do have a strong sense of vocation,” she said. “When you are called to the bar, it’s a very moving moment. You are being called to an ancient profession, and you are respond- ing. It’s powerful.”

Monique has practised civil litigation, representing clients at all three levels of the British Columbia courts, and has experience as a judicial law clerk within the Supreme Court of British Columbia—all excellent preparation for her current appointment as in-house counsel to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Whatever complexities there are in her life, she seems to find good energy in navigating the intricate avenues of her professional work.

“My life events have had a kind of weird order,” Monique says, referring to her decision to pursue a law degree after she had her children. “But I always had law in the back of my mind, and grad school really got me thinking about it. Victoria has a great law school.”

Monique brings the conversation back around to the memories that opened up for her during her visit to Elmwood in April— the classroom life, the hours of homework, her special friends in Tasha Carrothers and Leilani Farha, her community service with seniors and the little francophone parish she belonged to, and the warm and often amusing experience of boarding with Danièle Séguin. Above all, however, it is the teachers she has the most praise for.

“The teachers were so dedicated to us. We were on the cusp between girlhood and young adulthood, and even though I was not at home I still felt like I had this circle of caring adults to keep me moving and keep me safe.”