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Location & Contact

 

Natasha Wiatr - Museum Curator

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

Phone: (705) 752-2282 
Fax:(705) 752-3116 
Email: museum@callander.ca or nwiatr@callander.ca

The Dionne Quintuplets

 

The Birth

On May 28, 1934, Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe was called to the house of Oliva and Elzire Dionne to help with a pregnancy. When he arrived, the two midwives (Mme. Legros, Elzire’s aunt, and Mme. Lebel, a neighbour) had already delivered 2 babies and were in the middle of a 3rd arriving. Dafoe took over the delivery of the last 2 births and helped Mrs. Dionne recover, as she was very ill.

Mme. Legros and Mme. Lebel (midwives) with the Dionne Quintuplets

Dafoe organized the midwives into getting more clean sheets, something to keep the babies in, and more heat in the house to keep them home. They were placed in a basket and set upon the open door of the oven and were primarily left alone, as the doctor was more concerned with tending to Elzire, since he did not believe the babies would survive. He did instruct the midwives to bathe the babies in warm olive oil and to feed them (using an eye dropper) a combination of water, corn syrup and rum. This would stimulate their blood flow and heart rate.

Dr. Dafoe with a Quint

 

“Quintmania” Takes Over

When the doctor returned the next morning, he was surprised to find all 5 babies still alive, and soon enough, the entire world would know the names of Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie and Marie. A whirlwind of events would follow including reporters, and people from all over the region crowding the small farmhouse property trying to get a glimpse of the “miracle babies”. Kidnapping attempts, accidental fires and people dressing up as nuns to try to gain access to the home plagued the parents, the nurses and the doctor. The grandfather, Oliver, would protect his granddaughters by wielding a pitchfork to keep people off the property. It was hard for the family to know who to trust. Security issues, fear of infection from overcrowding and the loss of custody from the parents (see below) resulted in the building of the Dafoe Hospital/Nursery across the road. The babies were moved there and lived there until they were 9 years old.

Aerial View of Dionne Homestead (bottom of picture) and Dafoe Hospital/Nursery (top)

As newspapers reported more and more and photos were released, many more people began to flock to the Ontario North. Amongst these were promoters from the Chicago World Fair who attempted to convince the father to sign an agreement to exhibit the girls once they were healthy and able to be moved. This event triggered a response from the public that the Ontario Government needed to step in to protect “their girls” from American promoters. The girls were removed from the care of their parents for 2 years and instead a board of Guardians was established to manage their care and needs.

Oliva and Elzire Dionne, along with grandfather Oliver, and their babies

The arrival of the miracle babies would end up bringing 3 million visitors to the small village of Callander, Ontario between the years of 1934 and 1943 making it as popular as Niagara Falls, Radio City Music Hall, Gettsyburg and Mount Vernon. It became a sort of, “Northern Coney Island”.

 

The Parking Lot at Quintland, with the first Mme. Legros / Lebel Shop.

“Showings” first began with the nurses standing on the patio of the nursery, holding each baby up to a gathered crowd, with a nameplate to identify which Quint it was. As the crowds grew and the demand to see the girls increased, an outdoor observatory was built beside the nursery with a playground inside. Similar to viewing animals in a zoo, the crowds would rush the entrance when the gates opened and would pile inside to view the girls behind one-way screen that allegedly ensured that the girls couldn’t see or hear the people watching them play. The girls later corrected this assumption and stated that they were well aware that they were being observed. Soon souvenir shops were popping up, highways were paved, additional floors were added to hotels, and everybody seemed to be turning a profit from the influx of tourists. With the opening of “Quintland” and the Quint Observatory, the babies were available to be  seen 2 times a day. Everyone around the world heard of the news of the Quints, creating instant celebrity status for the five little girls.

Quint Observatory Aerial View, Nursery at the top left corner

The girls became a 5-hundred-million dollar asset to the province of Ontario. Tourism boomed, endorsement deals were signed, 3 Hollywood films were filmed, celebrities of the day were taking trips to the North to meet the doctor and view the babies, businesses dramatically increased and it seemed the everybody was making money off the miracle birth. The father himself eventually ran 2 souvenir shops and sold his autograph, though he would need the money for the eventual custody battle and court fees that loomed down the road. The 2-year guardianship period was extended to 18-years, but after years of fighting to regain custody, the Dionne family was reunited in 1943 when the entire family moved into a newly built, $50,000 building known as “The Big House”. Today, this building is part of Nipissing Manor.

 The Dionne Family in likely 1946 or 1947

Interesting Facts

The odds of quintuplets are 1 in 57, 289, 761. A single egg was twinned once to produce Yvonne & Annette, and then twinned twice to produce Cecile and another egg. This other egg split to produce Emilie and Marie. It was only the third set of identical quintuplets in recorded history; they were the only ones to survive more than a few hours in the 500 years previous. Elzire had passed an egg-shaped object 3 months into her pregnancy, and this was believed to have potentially be a 6th child. All were right handed and their hair whorls ran counter-clockwise except Emilie, who was was a mirror twin of Marie.

 

Elzire Dionne and the Quintuplets the morning they were born, May 28th, 1934.

 

Yvonne Edouida Marie was the first born at 4:10 am.
Annette Liliane Marie was the second at 4:25 am.
Cecile Marie was the third at 4:40 am.
Emilie Marie was the fourth at 4:45 am.
Marie Reina Alma was the fifth at 4:57 am.

Yvonne and Annette shared an embryonic sac, and Emilie and Marie shared one. Cecile was alone.

Their total weight was 13 pounds 5 ounces, with Yvonne weighing the most at 2 pounds 8 ounces, and Marie weighing 1 pound 8.5 ounces.

Postcard featuring the 5 girls.

Parents and Family

Father:  Oliva Dionne was born in 1904 (d.1979).
Mother:  Elzire Legros Dionne was born in 1909 (d. 1986).
They were married September 15, 1925 at the age of 21 and 16. At the time of the Quints being born Elzire was 24 years of age and Oliva was 31. They continued to have children which brought the total of 14 children all together for the Dionnes. Ernest (b. 1926, d. 1995), Rose-Marie (b. 1928, d. 1995), Therese (b. 1929), Leo (b. 1930, d. 1930), Daniel (b. 1932, d. 1995), Pauline (b. 1933), Oliva Jr. (b. 1936, d. 2016), Victor (b. 1938, d. 2007), and Claude (b. 1946).

Quints with Oliva and Elzire Dionne