I stumbled on a reminder of these girls searching for something else. Blame it on being a Gemini and always fascinated by multiple births. The birth of these girls was quite remarkable in the days before fertility drugs. DNA testing proved that they were the product of a single embryo splitting into 3 separate egg sacs in their mother’s womb with 2 babies in each sack. One of the fetuses was miscarried early. There is so much more to this story than I will have time or inclination to go into. My source, where you can read more, is the LINK> Wikipedia article about them.
The identical quintuplet girls were, in order of birth:
- Yvonne Édouilda Marie Dionne (died 2001)
- Annette Lillianne Marie Allard (living)
- Cécile Marie Émilda Langlois (living)
- Émilie Marie Jeanne Dionne (died 1954)
- Marie Reine Alma Houle (died 1970)
Each girl had a color and a symbol to mark whatever belonged to her. Annette’s color was red and her design a maple leaf, Cécile’s green and a turkey, Émilie had white and a tulip, Marie blue and a teddy bear, and Yvonne pink and a bluebird.
The girls were legally removed from their parents and placed in the custody of the Red Cross, ostensibly to prevent their exploitation. In reality, they were exploited their entire childhoods. A compound was built just for them across the road from their birthplaces. The compound had an outdoor playground designed to be a public observation area. The sisters were brought to the playground, two or three times a day, for viewing by the crowd that would gather. It was surrounded by a covered arcade, which allowed tourists to observe the sisters behind one-way screens said to prevent noise and distraction from disturbing the children. The girls knew they were watched, as they could hear screams and laughter. The one-way screens did not fully block out the visitors, acting more like frosted glass.
The Canadian government realized there was enormous public interest in the sisters and developed tourist industry around them. They made the girls wards of the provincial Crown, originally planned to be in effect until they reached the age of 18. An example of that exploitation was the doctor who delivered them. Up until 1942, when Dr Allan Roy Dafoe retired, he was known as the world’s best doctor. He wrote a book, numerous pamphlets, and had a radio broadcast. Eventually Dr Dafoe was viewed as taking advantage of his newfound fame. He was removed as one of the three primary caretakers of the quintuplets partly in response to legal action instigated by the girls’ father, Oliva Dionne, seeking to regain custody over his children. The general public did not know Dr Dafoe profited in 1943 dollars at $182,466, which is equivalent to millions of dollars today.
Even their father got in on the act. 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. Women without children touched Oliva Dionne because they believed he could increase their chances of fertility. The quintuplets brought in more than $50 million in total tourist revenue to Ontario.
The sisters, their likenesses and images, along with Dr Dafoe’s, were used to publicize many commercial products including condensed milk, toothpaste, disinfectant and candy bars as well as specific brands like Karo Corn Syrup, Quaker Oats, Lysol, Palmolive Soap, Colgate Dental Cream, Carnation Milk and Baby Ruth Candy Bars.
Although the quintuplet’s trust fund was secured by the Canadian government, they were not rich nor living comfortably. They were making $746 monthly. The money in their trust fund decreased through spending on marriage, houses, child support, and divorce. It was discovered that their trust fund contained less money than what was made from advertisements and photographs of the quintuplets. The sisters requested $10 million from the Canadian government and received no response. They then turned down offers of 2 and 3 million dollars. They accepted 4 million dollars and an analysis of their trust accounts. Premier Mike Harris visited the sisters and apologized on behalf of the government. The quintuplets finally had their story in the public eye by challenging the Ontario government.
By 1939, the family was reunited because their parents made efforts to regain custody over their children. One factor was that the Dionnes had never agreed to the removal of the quintuplets from their custody. In 1942, the Dionne family moved into the nursery where the quintuplets had grown up, while they waited for their new home to be completed. In November 1943, the entire Dionne family moved into their new home. That building is now a retirement home.
When they were reunited, many struggles followed. They were not one big happy family and the quintuplets felt distanced from their siblings. They struggled to communicate as they spoke French and their siblings preferred English. Once Oliva received custody, he wanted the attention. He made police accompany his vehicle as he took the quintuplets out, constantly drawing attention to them and himself. The quintuplets were unaware for many years that the lavish house, the expensive food and the series of cars the family enjoyed were paid for with money they themselves had earned. They were aware of the fact that their upbringing meant they would never feel truly a part of the large Dionne family, and called their time in the big, new house, “the saddest home we ever knew”. The quintuplets left the family home upon turning 18 years old in 1952 and had little contact with their parents afterwards.