|Birth Day:||May 28, 1934|
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After the children's father agreed to show them at the Chicago World's Fair, the Canadian government stepped in to protect the babies, passing The Dionne Quintuplet Guardianship Act, which made the infants government wards for the remainder of their childhoods. The decision was overturned, however, in 1943, and the quintuplets were returned to their birth family.
Across the road from their birthplace, the Dafoe Hospital and Nursery was built for the five girls and their new caregivers. The girls were moved from the farmhouse to this nursery on September 21, 1934 and lived there until they were nine years old. The compound had an outdoor playground designed to be a public observation area. It was surrounded by a covered arcade, which allowed tourists to observe the sisters behind one-way screens. The facility was funded by a Red Cross fundraiser. The sisters were brought to the playground two or three times a day in front of the crowd. It was a nine-room nursery with a staff house nearby. The staff house held the three nurses and the three police in charge of guarding them, while a housekeeper and two maids lived in the main building with the quintuplets. The buildings were surrounded by a seven-foot (2.13 m) barbed-wire fence.
Although Oliva Dionne revoked the contract only days later citing that his wife, Elzire Dionne, did not sign it and therefore it didn't make the contract valid, the Tour Bureau claimed otherwise. On approximately July 27, 1934 the first guardianship bill was signed. Oliva and Elzire Dionne signed custody of the quintuplets over to the Red Cross for a period of two years to protect them from this contract and in return the Red Cross would cover all medical costs. This included the nurses' wages, supplies, and ensuring that enough breast milk was being shipped to the hospital. They also oversaw the building of a hospital built specifically for the Dionne quintuplets. In February 1935 the Dionnes travelled to Chicago as "Parents of the World Famous Babies" and made stage appearances. The Premier of Ontario at the time, Mitchell Hepburn, used the Dionne vaudeville trip as an excuse to extend the guardianship. He claimed that they must save the babies from further exploitation and, in March 1935, pushed the Dionne Quintuplets Act through government that officially made the girls Wards of the Crown and extended guardianship to the age of eighteen. Although Oliva Dionne had a seat on the Board of Guardians, he rarely attended meetings as he felt his vote wouldn't matter against the other three guardians: Dr. Dafoe, Joseph Valin and Minister of Welfare David Croll. The stated reason for removing the quintuplets from their parents' legal custody was to ensure their survival and protection from promoters.
In the 1935 film A Night at the Opera, Chico makes an oblique reference to the quintuplets, when he says that 'duplicates' are 'those five kids up in Canada'.
In the 1935 film, Man of the Moment, Tony, played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr., says, "No, my name is Dionne. I'm the second of the quintuplets."
In the 1936 film My Man Godfrey, Angelica Bullock, played by Alice Brady, references the Dionne Quintuplets with the line, "If a woman in Canada can have five children, why can't Godfrey?"
Approximately 3,000 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 woolen store opposite the nursery and the area acquired the name "Quintland". The souvenirs, picturing the five sisters, included autographs and framed photographs, spoons, cups, plates, plaques, candy bars, books, postcards, and dolls. Available to the public for free in bins were stones from the area that claimed to have the magical power of fertility – the bins would need to be refilled almost every day. Midwives Madame LeGros and Madame Lebel worked at five different souvenir shops at different times. The quintuplets brought in more than $50 million in total tourist revenue to Ontario. Quintland became Ontario's biggest tourist attraction of the era, surpassing the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. It was only rivalled by Radio City Music Hall, Mount Vernon, and Gettysburg in the United States. Hollywood stars who came to Callander to visit the Quints included Clark Gable, James Stewart, Bette Davis, James Cagney, and Mae West. Amelia Earhart also visited Callander just six weeks before her ill-fated flight in 1937.
In the 1937 British comedy film Oh, Mr Porter!, Will Hay's character "Porter" puns on "Murphy" telling him his wife's had quinsy (a complication of tonsillitis), replying "What, like that woman in Canada?"
Elzire suspected she was carrying twins, but no one was aware that quintuplets were even possible. The quintuplets were born two months premature. In 1938, the doctors had a theory that was later proven correct when genetic tests showed that the girls were identical, meaning they were created from a single egg cell. Elzire reported having had cramps in her third month and passing a strange object which may have been a sixth fetus.
The Dionne quintuplets also appeared in numerous newsreels and a short documentary film called Five Times Five in 1939. This film was nominated for an Oscar in 1940. In 1942, they appeared in one of James A. Fitzpatrick's Traveltalks Land of the Quintuplets shortly before they were returned to their parents. In 1998, the three surviving sisters, Cécile, Annette and Yvonne, participated in an hour-long documentary, "Full Circle: The Untold Story of the Dionne Quintuplets", written and directed by Maya Gallus, and broadcast on the CBC documentary series Life & Times.
By 1939 Dr. Dafoe had resigned as guardian and Oliva Dionne was gaining more support to have his family reunited. In 1942, the Dionne family moved into the Nursery with the Quintuplets while they waited for their new home to be completed. In November 1943, the entire Dionne family moved into their new home. The yellow brick, 20-room mansion was paid for out of the quintuplets' fund. The home had many amenities that were considered luxuries at the time, including telephones, electricity and hot water and was nicknamed "The Big House". The building is now a retirement home.
In the 1939 film The Women, Joan Crawford's character Crystal Allen schemes to convince her boyfriend of her domestic skills. Her friend jokingly asks her, "Why don't you borrow the quintuplets for the evening?"
In the 1941 film Dumbo, a musical number, titled "Look Out for Mr. Stork", contains lyrics mentioning "those quintuplets and the woman in the shoe".
In the 1944 film The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, an American girl has six boys. The news makes headlines around the world. A newspaper headline is shown: "Canada Demands Recount."
In the 1945 film Duffy's Tavern, Archie played by Ed Gardner, asks another character (Ms. Duffy), "...what else did you see while you were up there [in Canada], did you see the, uh, quintuplets?!"
The quintuplets left the family home upon turning 18 years old in 1952 and had little contact with their parents afterwards. Three went on to marry and have children: Marie had two daughters, Annette three sons, and Cécile five children, including one who died in infancy and twins Bruno and Bertrand. Émilie devoted her brief life to becoming a nun. Yvonne finished nursing school before turning to sculpting, then later becoming a librarian. Émilie died at the age of 20 as a result of a seizure. She had a series of seizures while she was a postulant at a convent and had asked not to be left unattended, but the nun who was supposed to be watching her thought she was asleep and went to Mass. Émilie had another seizure, rolled onto her belly and, unable to raise her face from her pillow, accidentally suffocated. In 1970, Marie was living alone in an apartment and her sisters were worried after not hearing from her in several days. Her doctor went to her home and found her in bed, Marie having been dead for days. A blood clot was found on her brain.
In 1965, author James Brough wrote a book, in cooperation with the then four surviving sisters, called We Were Five. Pierre Berton published a biography called The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama in 1977 and narrated a 1978 National Film Board of Canada documentary. John Nihmey and Stuart Foxman published the fictional Time of Their Lives — The Dionne Tragedy in 1986. Nihmey's and Foxman's book was the basis for the 1994 TV miniseries Million Dollar Babies, produced by CBC and CBS and starring Beau Bridges, Roy Dupuis and Céline Bonnier.
On July 21, 1981 the Callander Bay Heritage Museum located at 107 Lansdowne St. E. in Callander opened to the public. The museum, located in the prior home and practice of Dr. Dafoe, tells the story of the Dionne quintuplets, Dr. Dafoe, and other history of the area such as the logging industry, history of shipping on Lake Nipissing, geology and more. Of special note is a barber shop exhibit. The shop first operated on Main Street in Callander (across from the current Foodland) until approximately 1979 when the Township purchased the Dafoe homestead and turned it into a museum. The town barber, Alex Dufresne, was a driving force behind creating a community museum and he donated his barber shop for installation in the museum. The sinks, chairs, mirror and other pieces are all original. When an art gallery was added in 1994 it was fitting to call it the Alex Dufresne Gallery in honor of the museum's found and first chair. Five minutes down the road from the museum is the original "Quintland" site. Yvonne, Annette, Cecile and some of their children visited the museum in 1986. In the 1930s and 1940s, celebrities such as Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Stewart, Bette Davis, James Cagney and Dennis Morgan all visited Dr. Dafoe at his home. In 2016, Brooke Shields and Beau Bridges visited the museum when they were in the area filming a movie. Bridges had played Dr. Dafoe in the tv-movie Million Dollar Babies and Shields' interest in the quintuplets stemmed from her mother's interest in them.
A sibling of the quintuplets was the first to open the Dionne home as a museum. The original family homestead was moved around 1960 to a location on Highway 11B (near the present Clarion Resort), and again in 1985 to North Bay and converted into the non-profit Dionne Quintuplets Museum. The museum was first located at the intersection of Highway 11 and the Trans Canada Highway and features many artifacts from the quints' early days and their growing years. As of October, 2016, the museum closed, and the city of North Bay was considering selling the building as surplus, though a petition was circulated by citizens to have it designated and preserved as a historical structure. In 2017, plans surfaced for the city to sell the building, and relocate it to a fairground in the village of Sundridge 75 km south of North Bay. On November 9, 2017 the City of North Bay announced plans to move the house on November 19 to a new site in downtown North Bay (on Oak Street in a vacant area between Marina Point Retirement Residence and Discovery North Bay Museum, a former CPR Station c. 1903) and reopened in spring 2019.
In particular, Oliva Dionne was resentful and suspicious of outsiders as a result of his having lost custody of the girls. In 1995, the three surviving sisters alleged that their father had sexually abused them during their teenaged years.
In 1997, the three surviving sisters wrote an open letter to the parents of the McCaughey septuplets, warning against allowing too much publicity for the children. The letter read:
In 1998, the sisters reached a $2.8 million settlement with the Ontario government as compensation for their exploitation.
As of December 2019 there are two surviving sisters, Annette and Cécile. Yvonne died in 2001.
In 2018, the birth of the quints was named a National Historic Event.
Shelley Wood's novel about the sisters, The Quintland Sisters, was published on March 5, 2019. It is a fictionalized account of the sisters' story from the point of view of one of the midwives' assistants.
Celebrating Dionne Quintuplets's birthday. Wishing Dionne Quintuplets all the best!
Currently, Dionne Quintuplets is 89 years, 0 months and 0 days old. Dionne Quintuplets will celebrate 90th birthday on a Tuesday 28th of May 2024.
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