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Natasha Wiatr - Museum Curator

September to April: Thursday to Saturday from 10:00am to 5:00pm
May to August: Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00am to 5:00pm

107 Lansdowne St.
P.O. Box 100
Callander, Ontario
P0H 1H0 

Phone: (705) 752-2282 
Fax:(705) 752-3116 
Email: or

Welcome to the new blog of the Callander Bay Heritage Museum & Alex Dufresne Gallery!


August 8, 2019

Today is the final day of World Breastfeeding Week and breast milk played a crucial role in the survival of the Dionne quintuplets in the days after their birth.

Immediately after the birth of Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie, providing the babies with breast milk became a concern. Their mother, Elzire Dionne, had difficulty nursing her previous children and the birth was such a strenuous ordeal that she was bedridden for weeks after. Even if she was completely healthy, five healthy babies could consume as much as one hundred and fifty ounces of breast milk a day, while a nursing mother can only provide as much as thirty-five ounces daily. For the first day the babies received nothing but drops of warm water every few hours. The next day this was replaced by a formula created by Dr. Dafoe that involved sterilized water, corn syrup, cow’s milk and rum, but the babies would eventually require mother’s milk.

At first, through the efforts of Red Cross Nurse Marie Cloutier, breast milk was collected from mothers in the area who donated their own which was then rationed among the three smallest babies. It was not until the first shipment of frozen milk arrived from Chicago, coordinated by the President of the Chicago Board of Health Dr. Bundeson, that all the quintuplets could be properly fed at the same time. The Red Cross would then take the responsibility to ensure a steady amount was coming from places like Toronto and Montréal.

Without the breast milk provided by these donor mothers the premature infants surely would not have survived. As Nurse Louise de Kiriline Lawrence wrote, “all babies born too early should have mother’s milk. Without it their chances of survival are considerably reduced.”

Thank you to Sarah Miller ( for providing the photograph showing the shipping cartons! The other photograph shows a chart that demonstrates their food intake.




July 27, 2019

On this day, July 27, 1934, it was reported that the very first guardianship bill was signed that made the Red Cross the new guardians of the Dionne quintuplets. There is a misconception that the Ontario Government stepped in and removed the girls from the authority of their parents within weeks of their birth – this is not true. It was not until March 15th, 1935 that the Dionne Quintuplets Act was passed in government that made Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Marie and Émilie Wards of the Crown and extended the guardianship until the age of 18.

In the summer of 1934, the signed contract to exhibit the girls at the Chicago World’s Fair was the biggest concern to everyone. Although Mr. Dionne had returned all the money that was sent to him and proclaimed that the deal was invalid because Mrs. Dionne did not sign it, the promoters claimed otherwise and stated the contract was binding. There were fears that such a trip would be an immense toll on the health of the five babies and that they may not survive such an ordeal. To break the contract, a plan was developed that would transfer custody of the girls to the Red Cross which would break the agreement since the Red Cross did not sign the original contract. The agreement was for a period of two years and a board of guardians, made up of Dr. Dafoe, Ken Morrison (a Callander merchant and friend of Dr. Dafoe), grandfather Olivier Dionne, and William Alderson of the Red Cross, was created to manage the affairs of the identical sisters.

As part of this agreement the Red Cross would oversee the construction of a hospital built specifically for Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie and Marie that would have modern equipment and materials. From the July 27th, 1934 North Bay Nugget: “The Red Cross will assume all expenses, covering medical care, food and clothing for a period of two years. This will be extended for three years or more, at the expiration of that time, should the Dionnes consider it necessary.”

From Mr. and Mrs. Dionne’s point of view, it was a solution that would solve their worries, but went against their natural inclination to be parents – doing this would give up their parental rights for a period of time. They also stated that there were threats of assistance being withdrawn if they did not sign. From Lilian Barker’s The Quints Have A Family, she writes, “But she [Elzire] and Oliva couldn’t afford to take chances on the lives of their precious babies. No, no, that was unthinkable. She had fought the idea of the surrender, however, and she had put off as long as possible the signing of the custody agreement.” Later in the book, she states: [Oliva speaking] “Elzire, the time’s getting close… and we’ll have to surrender the babies to the Red Cross today. If we don’t Dr. Dafoe will give up their case and the Red Cross will discontinue all supplies, including the mothers’ milk that’s keeping the jumelles alive. Both the doctor and Mr. Alderson have served notice on me. So make up your mind, chérie, we’ll have to accept the inevitable.”

The two-year custody promise would turn out to be false when Premier Mitchell Hepburn condemned Mr. and Mrs. Dionne for travelling to Chicago in February 1935 to appear on stage as “Parents of the World Famous Babies”. While the purpose of the Chicago Vaudeville trip was to make money, the Dionnes did so with the intention of using it to expand the size of their home and to modernize it with up-to-date special nursery supplies to prepare for when the quintuplets were planned to return home in 1936. Hepburn did not see it this way and instead claimed that if the girls were returned home the parents would exploit them in the same way they had exploited themselves in Chicago. The result was the complete loss of control over the Dionne quintuplets by the family with no end to the arrangement in sight.


June 4, 2019

On this day, June 4, 1950 the monkeys were loose in Callander!

The following story was featured in one of our recent newsletters and was written by Don Clysdale.

Art Ranney and Danny Davis were pre-teens enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon by the Davis docks on Lansdowne Street, when they heard a funny noise, looked up and saw a boxcar flying through the air.

The train carrying the Bernard and Barry Midway from Toronto to Timmins derailed Sunday 4th of June, 1950 at 4:25 in the afternoon by the current Foodland, just south of the Callander train station. The first dozen cars were ok, but the next boxcar was trailing something which caught on the switch for the station yard, and sent the boxcar and the following ones flying. Thirteen boxcars and one passenger car left the rails and were smashed. Strangely, the caboose at the end stayed on the tracks.

One member of the circus cast, Arthur Gagne, 22, of Sudbury, was the only injury when he was hurled from the door of one of the cars. He was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in North Bay, and treated for bruises and shock.

The monkeys escaped and happily played on top of the overturned midway cars, but hurried to their keepers when they appeared. During repairs, the animals were taken from the wrecked boxcars. After the wreck, many children in the area were kept inside for fear there were still circus animals on the loose.

Main Street, also Highway 11 at the time, escaped being blocked, but Lansdowne Street (Hwy 94) was completely blocked, cutting off access to Quintland. Oliva Dionne, father of the quintuplet sisters, was trying to get to town, but had to turn back at the wreckage.

Callander Reeve Leonard Wookey was enjoying his Sunday afternoon nap at his Red Line Inn, when he heard the noise and looked out the window to see a boxcar flying towards him. It stopped in the sand 20 feet before the hotel.

About the most unhappy member of the crew was Lee Garridy of Toronto. He was playing poker with six others, and after 15 losses finally had a good hand when the wreck occurred. He was still carrying his cards in his hand as he looked at the wreckage an hour later.

The twisted rides, games and other accoutrements of the midway attracted almost as much attention as they would have in operation.

Repair crews were very busy repairing the hundreds of feet of chewed up rails and railway ties. Rail traffic started going through Callander again at 6:25 the following morning. In the interim, three trains were rerouted through Capreol. The circus was delayed for two weeks until the show was ready to go again.

It was a busy weekend for circus trains, as no fewer than four trains were in the area. The Bernard and Barry Midway was derailed in Callander. The Dailey Brothers show was setting up in Amelia Park in North Bay for its opening show Monday. Grey’s Show went through the city on its way to Sturgeon falls, and finally the Wallace Brother’s bright orange circus train sped on its way to New Liskeard.





June 3, 2019

“On this day…”

In 1934 the names of the Dionne quintuplets were written down for perhaps the first time, or at least one of the earliest times. Nurse Yvonne Leroux wrote in her diary: “They have been named – Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie and Marie in order of size. We have small tags on their coats with names on them.”

This picture, from Getty Images, shows Nurse Leroux placing one of the sisters in an incubator.



June 1, 2019

“On this day…”

In 1934 the North Bay Nugget published the news that Oliva Dionne has signed a contract with the Tour Bureau to exhibit the family at the Chicago World’s Fair. When the opportunity arose, Mr. Dionne spoke with Dr. Dafoe who advised him that the babies were not likely to survive and to make money while he could to provide support for the rest of his children and his sick wife. His priest, Father Daniel Routhier, accompanied Mr. Dionne to the business meeting in Orillia as his business manager. He would retain 7% profits from the deal that was to go towards the building of a new church in Corbeil, while the Dionnes would receive 23%.

The contract stipulated that the physician in charge, which would have been Dr. Dafoe, must declare that the mother and children are healthy enough to travel – this was a clause in the contract that Mr. Dionne had requested to add. This prevented the removal of the sisters before they were healthy enough to travel. The Tour Bureau would provide special transportation for the entire family, including the grandfather, doctor, and nurse, and assume all costs of the trip including salaries of everyone attending.

From Lilian Barker’s The Quints Have A Family page 59, on why he signed the contract: “Because his wife and babies were so critically ill, and, in his financial distress he hadn’t known how, even if they survived, he could provide the medical care they would all require for months and months to come.”

Here is technicolour footage of the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair:

May 30, 2019

“On this day…”

In 1934 Chicago reporter Charlie Blake arrived at the Dionne homestead hauling an 1895 incubator after being stopped at the customs boarder. It would have typically fit one baby, but, being so tiny, three of the Dionne quintuplets were placed inside of it. From Louise de Kiriline Lawrence’s book The Quintuplets’ First Year, “It’s outer walls were formed into a container which was filled with warm water. Inside there was a thermometer to control the heat. A sponge always kept moist provided the necessary humidity of the air circulating past the baby inside.” The incubators never ran on electricity or were powered by kerosene. Dr. Dafoe reportedly told Mr. Blake that “those babies don’t know what they owe you” as the timely arrival of the machine had given the girls a chance to fight for survival.

Elzire Dionne looks into the incubator at her daughters while Nurse Yvonne Leroux looks on. Courtesy of the Callander Bay Heritage Museum.

This incubator is currently part of the Saint Louise Science Center Collections because it was built and designed in Saint Louis by Aloe Medical.

Interestingly, Coney Island nursed premature babies back to their proper weight using incubators, but there was a catch: the babies would be on display for a paying public to see. The profit would go back to paying the nurses for their care and for other operating costs, they did not charge the parents. They essentially saved thousands of American babies this way.

Infants in incubators on display at Coney Island 1939-1940. Image courtesy of New York Public Library.

Thanks to Sarah Miller ( for helping us find some articles to verify information regarding the incubators! Sarah will be releasing her new book “The Miracle and Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets” on August 27 and will be here at the museum that day signing copies of her book and answering your questions.

April 10, 2019

Artefact: Dionne quintuplets guard clock
Accession Number: 2018.420.02

As their popularity increased, many people feared for the safety of the Dionne quintuplets and their fears were warranted – there were multiple failed kidnapping attempts throughout 1934 and 1935. In March 1935, the Ontario Provincial Police were brought in to guard the nursery 24/7, and a station was built at the entrance. The image to the bottom left shows the nursery to the right, and the guard station to the left. During their nightly rounds, the guards would bring a watchclock with them where, at various stations around the property, they would insert a key and “clock in” the time they were at that location. This ensured they were not sleeping on the job!

Originally on loan to us for our “Northern Coney Island” exhibit, the donor, Leonard Belsher, decided to permanently donate this unique artefact to our museum last spring, and we thank him for his generosity!

2018-420-02-quint-guard-clock-front 2018-420-02-quint-guard-clock-back-clasp-closed 2018-420-02-quint-guard-clock-bottom 2018-420-02-quint-guard-clock-inside 2018-420-02-quint-guard-clock-back-close-up-label