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Location & Contact

 

Natasha Wiatr - Museum Curator

Hours
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: 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, Douilda Legros and Mary-Jeanne Lebel, two local midwives, had delivered two tiny babies and were in the midst of a third arriving. Dr. Dafoe took over the delivery of the last two births and helped Mrs. Dionne recover, as she was very ill. Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Emilie and Marie were welcomed into the world.

The premature infants were placed in a basket and set upon a chair in front of the open door of the oven and were primarily left alone, as the doctor tended to Mrs. Dionne. The babies were bathed in warm olive oil and fed a combination of water, corn syrup and rum using an eye dropper. This would stimulate their blood flow and heart rate.

Mme. Legros and Mme. Lebel (midwives) with the Dionne Quintuplets  Dr. Dafoe with a Quint

Reporters and promoters descended on the property in waves as they hoped to catch a glimpse of the “miracle babies”, but were kept away by Grandfather Olivier Dionne and his pitchfork. One set of promoters from the Chicago World’s Fair did manage to connect with the father with a proposal to display the young girls. On the advice of Dr. Dafoe and his priest Father Daniel Routhier, Mr. Dionne signed the contract. When the news hit the papers, the public was upset that the Americans were taking “their” babies, and Mr. Dionne quickly renounced the contract. In order to keep the quintuplets safe from the promoters, the parents signed over custody of their girls to the Red Cross, who would manage the affairs of the sisters for a period of two years. Part of this involved the construction of a hospital across the road where the girls would live separate from their family. Although this agreement was to end after two years, the Ontario government feared further exploitation of the sisters if they were returned to their family. To combat this, Premier Mitchell Hepburn forced “The Dionne Act” through government and in 1935 they were officially made Wards of the Crown until they turned eighteen.

Aerial View of Dionne Homestead (bottom of picture) and Dafoe Hospital/Nursery (top) Oliva and Elzire Dionne, along with grandfather Oliver, and their babies

“Quintmania” Takes Over

The arrival of the miracle babies ended up bringing three million visitors to the area 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 girl 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 line up to enter the building 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 sisters later corrected this assumption and stated that they were well aware that they were being observed. Soon souvenir shops were built, 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 observatory, the babies were available to be seen 2 times a day. Everyone around the world heard of the news of the quintuplets, creating instant celebrity status for the five little girls.

Quint Observatory Aerial View, Nursery at the top left corner

The girls became a five-hundred-million dollar asset to the province of Ontario. They starred in three Hollywood films, and their faces could be found on everything from radios and spoons, to pocket mirrors and dolls. Many celebrities took 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. After years of fighting to regain custody, the Dionnes were 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. Mrs. Dionne had passed an egg-shaped object three months into her pregnancy, and this was believed to have potentially been a sixth child. All were right handed and their hair whorls ran counter-clockwise except Emilie, who was was a mirror twin of Marie and was left handed.

 

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, d. 2009).

Quints with Oliva and Elzire Dionne