During the blackest days of the Great Depression there wasn’t much hope for anyone, but the Dionne quintuplets helped to lighten the Great Depression somewhat. Who were the Dionne quintuplets and did the Ontario government exploit them? These five sisters had a difficult life; they were displayed to the public for nine years, taken away from their family and put under the guardianship of the doctor who had delivered them. They were used as commercial products, and were robed of the money that they had earned during their early lives.
The thirties was a dark period for many Canadians. A depression had occurred. A lot of people lost their jobs and more and more people were getting poorer by the day. The thirties were a sad and hard time for many of the population. The birth of the Dionne quintuplets had sparked some hope. They were the first known quintuplets, however, to survive infancy, and they were one of the few sources of cheerful headlines during that period. Their miracle gave people a chance to get some positive news for a change instead.
Annette, Ccile, Emilie, Marie, and Yvonne were born on a humid morning, between three and six A.M., of May 28, 1934. They were born in their parent’s, Oliva and Elzire Dionne’s, two story farmhouse in the town of Collander, Ontario. The babies were born two months prematurely, each weighing less than two pounds. The babies needed incubators, donated by Red Cross, to survive the first few critical months of their lives. A hospital was then built near the Dionne home as a nursery for the five babies. Dr.Allan Roy Dafoe was the doctor who delivered the quintuplets; he claimed that because of him the five baby girls were alive.
In 1935 the Dionne quintuplets were taken away from their family and became wards of the Government of Ontario. A bill was passed that the quintuplets were to stay wards of Ontario until their eighteenth birthday’s. The government put the quintuplets under the supervision of Dr.Dafoe. Oliva Dionne fought for nine years to get his daughters back. In 1943, the quintuplets were finally returned to their family. Also, that same year Dr.Dafoe died. The sisters only returned twice to see their family, since they didn’t feel wanted at home. Some of their brothers and sisters felt like strangers to the Quintuplet sisters. The rest of their siblings were both proud and jealous of them since they were treated like princesses. The other siblings were mad because the quintuplets didn’t have to do any chores and the rest of them did, because of these reasons. The quintuplet’s whole family blamed them for their un-happy lives.
After the quintuplets became wards of the Ontario government, they were put on display in what they called Quintland, where people could come and see the quintuplets. Quintland was built on Oliva Dionne’s 195-acre farm, right across the road from their family house. Quintland was made up of a horseshoe-shaped observatory, public washrooms, two souvenir shops, the Dionnes house, a woolen shop that belonged to Oliva, a guard house, a staff house, a private playground, and the Dafoe nursery. Over three million people came from all over the globe to see the quintuplets, during the nine years the Quintland was open.
The five Dionne girls didn’t live a life just like anyone else. They were big celebrities, but there was a price to pay. There whole life was based on a strict routine. Although they were taken away from their parents for nine years, they say that living in the nursery was actually fun. They got to be raised by private teachers and nurses. They also did many things during their lives. They visited New York at the age of sixteen. They met the Premiere. They even went to go see the Queen. They seemed to be living a great life, but their life at home wasn’t too great; they moved out at eighteen. Only Yvonne, Cecile and Annette returned home twice. The five sisters attended college at Nicolet, Quebec. In 1953, Marie entered a convent in Quebec City and spent several months there. In 1954, Emilie died from an epileptic seizure, at the age of 20 in Saint-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec. She was the first of the quintuplets to die. The whole world was shocked, and the other sisters were devastated by their loss. Only three of the sisters married. Annette and Cecile married at twenty-three, and Marie at twenty-four. Marie had two children, Annette had three and Cecile five. Marie separated from her husband six years after her marriage. She died at the age of thirty-six in her Montreal apartment from a blood clot in her brain.
During their life the quintuplets made advertisements for many different companies. They also made radio advertisements and they appeared on several magazines such as Life, Look, Screen, Time, Romance, and Liberty. There were even Quintuplet dolls and calendars.
The quintuplets were bring in a lot of money with their popularity with Quintland. They basically saved the North Bay region from bankruptcy with the money they were making with Quintland and they were a five hundred millions dollar asset for the Government of Ontario. The Dionne sisters were supposed to inherit all the money that they had made during their lives at the age of twenty-one, but when their twenty-first birthday came along there was only $800 000 left. Fifty thousand dollars was used in the construction of their new three story, yellow brick Mansion built for the whole Dionne family. The girls also had to pay for the building of Quintland. They also had to pay the staff twenty-five thousand dollars a year. They paid a sum of five thousand dollars for public bathrooms at Quintland as well. The remaining sisters claimed two thirds of the money that was left and the remaining third went to the children.
Today the three surviving quintuplet sisters, Yvonne, Annette, and Cecile, live in the town of St.Bruno, near Montreal. They are living in a nice quiet house enjoying their privacy that they once didn’t have. In 1998, the sisters finally got four million dollars as compensation from the Ontario government.
These sister were ordinary girls from a normal farm family. They were a medical miracle! They unfortunately were exploited by everyone around them and most by the Ontario Government. The girls were taken from their parents and they were used to pay off provincial debts. Companies abused them too.
?Berton, Pierre. The Dionne Years: A thirties Melodrama.McClelland & Steward. Toronto 1977. CT 310. D5 B4.
?Soucy, Jean-Yves. Avec Annette, Ccile, et Yvonne Dionne. (Secrets de Famille).Libre Expression 1995. B Dio. (Granby Library).
?Horn, Michiel. The Dirty Thirties. Corp Clark . Toronto 1972. HC 115 H865.
?Nihmey, John & Foxman, Stuart. La Tragdie des jumelles Dionne. Flammarion itee 1994. B Dio ( Granby Library).
?Burton, Pierre. The Great Depression. McClelland & Steward. Toronto 1990. FC 577. B47 1998.
?Came, Barry. A Family Tragedy. Maclean’s November 21, 1994.
?Listening to the Dionnes. Marketing. March 16, 1998.
?The Canadian Encyclopedia.