A secret admirer’s 60 valentines inspire a songwriter

Last year, tens of thousands of Star readers were touched by the sweet story of Meryl Dunsmore, who as a teenager in 1920s Toronto began receiving annual valentines from a fan anonymous secrecy.

Over the next 60 years, his epistle only missed one Valentine’s Day and shortly afterwards apologized by postcard, explaining that he had been ill.

The cards always bore the postmark of exotic places: Paris, Japan, South Africa. “The only Canadian came from Whitehorse,” Dunsmore told the Star in 1968, when his story was first published. In this photo from a follow-up story from 1972, the 60-year-old had been receiving cards for 44 years.

Despite Dunsmore’s persistent claims that she had no idea who the correspondent was could be, his daughter is suspicious. Dunsmore had been friends with a young man whose society family might have pushed him to mix exclusively within his own narrow social circle. But this intervention would have been only partially successful; whoever it was, he always kept Dunsmore in his heart.

Although Dunsmore had moved six times and been married twice, the valentines came like clockwork until his death in 1988. At his funeral an unknown gentleman appeared but kept a respectful distance in the back from the church. No card arrived the following February; his secret friend had said a last goodbye to him.

This charming tale captured the imagination of Canadian singer-songwriter Caroline Wiles. “I love writing true stories,” says Wiles. “When I read that Meryl and her secret admirer had been sending her valentines for 60 years, I knew I had to write about it.”

Wiles admits to indulging in a bit of creative license. “I called it ’59 Valentines’ instead of ’60 Valentines’ because 59 sings better, and it rhymes with valentines.”

Dunsmore’s family were deeply touched upon hearing the song. “I received the most beautiful email from Meryl’s daughter and granddaughter, thanking me for writing the song.” said Wiles. “They said they had tears in their eyes when they heard it.”

The song is on Wiles’ latest album, “Grateful,” which also includes a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Talking in Your Sleep.” When producer Bob Doidge sent the album to Lightfoot for approval, the singer mentioned how much he loved “59 Valentines.” Wiles thinks it would have made Dunsmore quite special as well.

Speculating who might have been behind the mystery cards, Wiles says, “I believe the secret admirer was someone Meryl probably knew from school or her neighborhood. I really think she knew who he was, otherwise she would have been freaked out by the valentines, especially since they followed her to different addresses.

Still, Wiles found Dunsmore’s admirer’s devotion romantic. “What really moved me,” she says, “was something he wrote in one of those valentines – that there would come a time when he could only communicate from another medium, and that she would always be in his heart. That’s true love.


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