Defying time, age and odds: Canadians share their love stories on Valentine’s Day

Click to play video: 'Valentine’s Day 2023: Couple in their 70s reflect on being each other’s 1st and last loves'
Valentine’s Day 2023: Couple in their 70s reflect on being each other’s 1st and last loves
Speaking from Wiarton, Ont., 73-year-old Marlene O’Donnell and 75-year-old Paul La Duke shared their love story that saw marriages with other people after first dating — and breaking up — as teenagers. “When Paul asked me to marry him, one thing he said was, ‘You were my first girlfriend, and I want you to be my last girlfriend,’” O’Donnell said – Feb 14, 2023

Valentine’s Day is the day of love and this year, Canadians across the nation are sharing their unusual stories of love, marriage and overcoming hardships with Global News after tumultuous recent years.

Four couples, whose relationships span the decades and numerous challenges from age to cancer to distance, and everything in between, share how their love has stood the tests of time and roadblocks, starting all the way back in the 1940s.

Marlene O’Donnell and Paul La Duke were high school sweethearts, around 14 and 16 years of age.

Their relationship was deemed “too serious” by O’Donnell’s father and they were split up. Eventually, each went on to marry other people.

O’Donnell married La Duke’s friend from high school and he married a woman he met in college. Both had children with their partners.

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Years passed and “things did not end as happily as they began” for the two marriages and the spouses of O’Donnell and La Duke passed away.

They thought they “were going to be alone for the rest of our lives,” La Duke, now 75, told Global News from Wiarton, Ontario.

The thought of such loneliness led to their first date in 56 years at a restaurant in St. Thomas, Ontario, three years ago.

The two reconnected through O’Donnell’s sister, who secretly thought the pair should have been together all along.

Paul La Duke and Marlene O’Donnell on their first date in 56 years in St. Thomas, Ontario. Provided by Paul La Duke and Marlene O’Donnell

Last July, the two were finally married.

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“You were my first girlfriend and I want you to be my last,” La Duke said to O’Donnell when he proposed. “We’re going to be together.”

“Forever,” said O’Donnell, completing his sentence.

“And when our time is over, our ashes are going to be scattered together and we’re going to spend eternity together touring the universe,” La Duke added.

Cancer made their love 'stronger'

Gabrielle Tomelin, 40, met her husband 25 years ago on the volleyball court at school.

Living in different parts of British Columbia at the time, the two kept in touch but never dated. They remained friends for 15 years.

Eventually, when the two started living in Calgary, Alberta, their relationship blossomed.

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“It was just like those two hearts that couldn’t be apart from each other,” Tomelin said from Alberta.

Click to play video: 'Valentine’s Day 2023: Wife overcomes cancer, adopts baby with husband over 25-year journey'
Valentine’s Day 2023: Wife overcomes cancer, adopts baby with husband over 25-year journey

In November 2012, they got engaged and married the next year in August. At the same time, Tomelin was dealing with a health scare. For over two years, doctors tried to remove pre-cancerous cells from her body.

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“Over the course of from when we got engaged until when we got married, I was still dealing with those pre-cancerous cells. Dealing with looming cancer in the background,” Tomelin said.

In February 2015, after doctors found three baseball-sized tumors, Tomelin had surgery to remove the cancer from her body. Chemotherapy and radiation followed.

“We were finally together, then I get cancer,” she said. “I didn’t want to lose him. We had finally just found each other and our love. I was like, ‘There’s no way. We need more time.’”

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But her battle with cancer only made the relationship stronger.

“I think it can rattle a lot of cages. In our case, it just made us stronger,” Tomelin said.

Cancer also hindered the couple’s shot at becoming parents, so they adopted a child in October of 2019.

love story
Gabrielle Tomelin, 40, and her husband and child. Provided by Gabrielle Tomelin

The pair will celebrate ten years of marriage this August.

A slice of Cuba in Canada

Iva Stankovic finished high school in 2004 and booked a celebration trip to Cuba with her friends right after.

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That’s where she met Marco Boato, from Italy, who was on vacation with his family. The two spent the rest of their time in Cuba together and cried when the trip ended.

Iva Stankovic and Marco Boato in Cuba in 2004. Provided by Iva Stankovic

“But we just knew it wasn’t goodbye,” Stankovic told Global News.

The two stayed in touch with email for three years until Boato visited Stankovic in Canada. That was the first trip of many until Boato finally moved to Toronto in 2010.

Stankovic, now 37, can speak Italian and Boato, now 38, has brushed up on his English and learned French.

Four years ago, they got married at a castle in Italy.

Iva Stankovic and Marco Boato at their Italy wedding. Provided by Iva Stankovic

“I’m always grateful and happy that we’re finally living in one country together because it wasn’t easy spending so many Valentine’s Days apart,” Stankovic said.

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Once bitten, twice not shy!

Linda Pryer met her husband, Jeremy, on a blind date at a cabaret in Calgary, Alberta when she was 17 and he was 19. It was “love at first sight.”

The two were married in May of 1977 and had two children. But Pryer “decided to take a detour” in life and work on finding herself.

The two separated and in her journey, Pryer ended up remarrying. When that marriage failed, Pryer continued on her journey as a single mom.

Jeremy, who never remarried, started to come around and help her look after the children.

“Our friendship seemed to start to grow again,” Pryer told Global News. “Our life started to blossom from there. He just became my rock without me even realizing it.”

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The two were re-married in December 1995.

Linda Pryer and her husband Jeremy at their 1977 and 1995 weddings. Provided by Linda Pryer

When Pryer asked Jeremy why he never remarried, he told her it was because he never stopped loving her.

“And I think deep down, I never stopped loving him either.”

With a second chance at love, this time “is even better,” according to Pryer.

Now with five grandchildren, the two have been married for 27 years.

“Our children are our children, and our grandchildren are our grandchildren, and that’s amazing. I would have never thought that in the end our family is all healed and whole,” said Pryer.

“But we were always meant to be together and that’s why we’re here now.”

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Click to play video: 'Valentine’s Day 2023: Couple crosses Atlantic Ocean for love after meeting on vacation as teenagers'
Valentine’s Day 2023: Couple crosses Atlantic Ocean for love after meeting on vacation as teenagers

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