Canadian History for Kids!
Sketches of Canada for May 28th!
May 28, 1934 – Birth of the Dionne Quintuplets at Callender, Ontario, east of North Bay; Annette, Cecile, Emilie, Marie and Yvonne.
This Canadian History for Kids exclusive looks at the Dionne Quintuplets.
The Quint’s were born to Oliva and Elzire Dionne. The Quint’s combined weight at birth was only 13lbs. 6ozs. and they had to be kept in incubators for the first month of their lives. Their lungs were so small that diluted doses of rum were required daily to help the Quint’s breathe properly.
It was a one in 57 million chance of giving birth to identical quintuplets and even less chance of them surviving, but the Dionne Quints did.
The baby girls were born two months premature. After four months with their family they were made wards of the King for the next nine years under the Dionne Quintuplets’ Guardianship Act, 1935. The government and those around them began to profit by making them a significant tourist attraction in Ontario.
The identical quintuplet sisters were (in order of birth) Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie and Marie.
Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe is doctor who delivered the quintuplets with the help of two midwives, Aunt Donalda and Madame Benoit Lebel, who were called by Oliva Dionne in the middle of the night.
The quintuplets were immediately wrapped in cotton sheets and old napkins, and laid in the corner of the bed. Dr. Dafoe was certain that none of them could live. Shortly after the births were completed, Elzire went into shock and Dafoe thought that she would die as well, but she recovered in two hours.
The children were put under the guidance of Dr. Dafoe and two other guardians. The reason for removing the quintuplets from their parents’ legal custody was to make sure they survived. The government realized that there was huge public interest in the sisters and continued to produce a tourist industry around them. The girls were made wards of the provincial Crown, planned until they reached the age of 18.
Across the road from their birthplace, the Dafoe Hospital and Nursery was built for the five girls. They were moved from the farmhouse to this nursery at the end of September. The compound had an outdoor playground designed to be a public observation area. It was surrounded by a covered arcade that allowed tourists to observe the sisters behind one-way screens. The facility was funded by a Red Cross fundraiser. It was a nine-room nursery with a staff house nearby. The staff house held the three nurses and the three policemen in charge of guarding them. A housekeeper and two maids lived in the main building with the quintuplets. The buildings were surrounded by a seven-foot barbed-wire fence. The sisters were brought to play there for thirty minutes two or three times a day.
Approximately 6,000 people per day visited the observation gallery that surrounded the outdoor playground to view the Dionne sisters. Ample parking was provided and almost 3,000,000 people walked through the gallery between 1936 and 1943. Oliva Dionne ran a souvenir shop and a concession store opposite the nursery and the area acquired the name “Quintland”. The souvenirs pictured the five sisters. There were autographs and framed photographs, spoons, cups, plates, plaques, candy bars, books, postcards, dolls, and much more at this shop.
The sisters starred in two Hollywood feature films, which were versions of their story. They played the ‘Wyatt Quintuplets’ in both films, and in both these films, the Dionne Quintuplets didn’t so much act as simply appear.
Their scenes were filmed at Quintland in Callendar, Ontario, and involved them playing and interacting with each other, as one would expect of normal 2 and 4-year-old children.
In November 1943 the Dionne parents won back custody of the girls. The entire family moved into a newly built house within walking distance of Quintland. The yellow brick, 20-room mansion was paid for out of the Quintuplets’ fund.
The quintuplets left the family home upon turning 18 years old in 1952, and had little contact with their parents afterwards. Marie, Annette and Cécile went on to marry and have children, with Cécile having twins Bertrand and Bruno. Yvonne and Émilie never married while Émilie devoted her life to becoming a nun.
Emilie, died in 1954 at age 20 of an epileptic seizure. Marie died at home at age 36. In 1998, the sisters reached a monetary settlement with the Ontario government as compensation for what was perceived to be their exploitation. Yvonne Dionne died in 2001, and as of January 2013, there are two surviving sisters, Annette and Cécile.
And that’s this week’s Canadian History for Kids, exclusive!