A secret admirer’s 60 valentines inspired a songwriter

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

Over the next 60 years, her epistler only missed one Valentine’s Day, and soon after apologized via postcard, explaining he had been ill.

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

Despite Dunsmore’s persistent claims that she had no clue who the correspond could be, her daughter has suspicions. Dunsmore had been friendly with a young man whose society family might have pressured him to mix exclusively within its own tight social circle. But this interference would have been only partially successful; whoever it was always kept Dunsmore close at heart.

Despite Dunsmore moving six times and marrying twice, the valentines came like clockwork until her death in 1988. At her funeral, an unfamiliar gentleman appeared but kept a respectful distance at the back of the church. No card arrived the following February; her secret pal had said a last goodbye.

This charming tale sparked the imagination of Canadian singer-songwriter Caroline Wiles. “I love writing true story songs,” says Wiles. “When I read about Meryl and her secret admirer 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 was deeply touched upon hearing the song. “I received the most beautiful email from Meryl’s daughter and granddaughter, thanking me for writing the song.” Wiles says. “They said they had tears in their eyes when they heard it.”

The song is on Wiles’s latest album, “Grateful,” which also features 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 liked “59 Valentines.” Wiles believes that would have made Dunsmore feel pretty special, too.

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

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

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