Born in 1955, Sylvia Dunstan attributes her love of song to her grandparents, who kept song alive in the family and entrusted Sylvia's formal musical education to one of the nuns at the local convent. Sylvia began writing songs in the early seventies and soon after met Sister Miriam Theresa Winter, who encouraged her to write songs based on Scripture. Sylvia eventually realized that her talents did not lay with the music and concentrated instead on the lyrics. She was further shepherded and encouraged by Alan Barthel.
Her bachelor degree was earned from York University, and she received graduate degrees in theology and divinity from Emmanuel College, Toronto. In 1980, she was ordained by the Hamilton Conference of the United Church of Canada. During her career she served as a minister, a prison chaplain, and editor of a Canadian worship resource journal, Gathering.
In the summer of 1990 she was invited to lead the annual conference of the Hymn Society in the U.S. and Canada in a session exploring her hymnody. That exposure led to the publication of In Search of Hope and Grace
. A smaller collection Where the Promise Shines
was published after her death in 1994. Many of her hymn texts have been set by contemporary composers.
Sylvia Dunstan died on July 25, 1993, almost four months after being diagnosed with liver cancer. She left behind a ministry that combined a compassionate concern for the needy and distraught with a consuming love of liturgy.