When Nick Gunz's parents asked him what they should do with some old notebooks they found in the crawl space of their home, one obvious thought came to mind.
"The most important thing about them is you shouldn't read them. They were covered in warnings saying, 'Do not read this,' including, by the way, a warning saying that the author was sometimes a 'fierce spy'" Gunz told CBC Metro Morning's Ismalia Alfa on Thursday.
They belonged to a then 10-year-old girl, Allison Jenkins, who used to live in the home. The diary was from 1983.
Gunz, a historian and instructor at the University of Toronto, took it upon himself to return the writings to their rightful owner, but had no way of getting in touch.
So, he flipped through and found the name and age of the diarist. He also put a picture of the purple diary online hoping the owner might Google her name and come across the post.
"Within an astonishingly short period of time, hundreds and hundreds of people started investigating this and found Allison," said Gunz.
'A very happy time in my life,' recalls diarist
Allison Jenkins said she got up on the Sunday morning after Christmas to a flood of Facebook messages from complete strangers pointing her to Gunz's post.
"I thought, 'Woah, this is some new internet scam; I better not click on this link.'" she told Alfa.
As she looked closer at the photos attached, she saw a picture of the house where she used to live in Toronto as well as a picture of her diary.
When the musician and music teacher finally got her notebooks and diary delivered to her home in the Vancouver area, it was surreal to go through them.
"To get to look back, I think that's one of the lovely things about keeping diaries," she said.
"Obviously, I've heard some people say, 'Oh, I would never want to come across my old diaries,' but it was lovely to see. I was [a] very innocent kid, a very happy kid, and that was a very happy time in my life," she said.
Diaries make strangers, friends
Since connecting, Gunz and Jenkins have been emailing over the last few weeks and recalling their experiences growing up in the same home in Etobicoke.
"It's been really wonderful. We are a few years apart in age, not that it matters as adults. But it would have mattered when we were kids, but I think if we had been kids together, we'd have been firm friends," Gunz said.
For Jenkins, it's all been so unexpected.
"It's been the loveliest part of all of this. Not only did strangers from the Internet, band together and track me down over something so cute and so small, to make friends long distance, to be able to write to someone I've never met and maybe never will," she said.
"I had a lot of ideas about friendship that have changed during the pandemic when we can't see people as much," she added.
"It's just been a lovely confirmation that you never have to see someone. You can start writing to someone and really consider them a friend."