Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 28, 2012

The Dionnes

May 28, 1934: Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie Dionne are born. Their parents, Oliva (father) and Elzire (mother) married September 15, 1926 and already had five children. Ernest, Rose Marie, Therese, Daniel, and Pauline were waiting for the birth of the new baby. Pauline was only eleven months old at the time of the birth. Léo had died shortly after his birth.  Elzire thought she might be having twins. They were born three months early with two midwifes beginning the birthing process. Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe was present for the birth of the last two babies. He is credited with the birth of all the children.

Their births were recorded in Corbeil, a larger town near Callander, Ontario, Canada. The birth order and the babies’ weights were not recorded. The three larger babies were born first. All five were wrapped in cotton sheets and napkins and laid in the corner of the bed. Dr. Dafoe was sure they wouldn’t survive. Elzire went into shock soon after the births and it wasn’t certain she would survive, either. However, all of them did survive. The Dionne quintuplets were the first set of quints to survive infancy. They were determined to be identical, all stemming from one fertilized egg. We know of only a handful of cases where identical quints were born (1786, 1849, 1936, 1959, 2004, and 2007) and to date, this is the only case where all five survived.

The babies were kept in a wicker basket and various methods were used to keep them warm. News spread around the world and congratulations and well wishes began to pour in. By the time they were four months old, the Ontario government decided the parents were unfit to care for the infants and removed them from custody. The government would be their guardian and care would be supervised by Dr. Dafoe. At first they would be kept “safe” just for two years. But as they became an ever more popular tourist attraction, it was deemed they needed to be under government care until they were 18. The Dafoe Hospital and Nursery was built for the girls and their caregivers. Their parents were sometimes permitted to visit.

The Dionnes had three more sons after the quints were born, Oliva Jr., Victor, and Claude. In November 1943, the girls were finally returned to their family. The quints were still popular and traveled to various functions. Their home life was scarred by their years in the custody of the government. All the girls left home when they reached 18. Émilie died at age 20 after having a seizure. Marie died at age 35 from an apparent blood clot of the brain. Yvonne died of cancer at age 67. Annette and Cecile are still living.

Our lives have been ruined by the exploitation we suffered at the hands of the government of Ontario, our place of birth. We were displayed as a curiosity three times a day for millions of tourists.

To all those who have expressed their support in light of the abuse we have endured, we say thank you.

Multiple births should not be confused with entertainment, nor should they be an opportunity to sell products.

We sincerely hope a lesson will be learned from examining how our lives were forever altered by our childhood experience. – all from an open letter from Annette, Cecile and Yvonne Dionne to the McCaugheys

Also on this day:

It Can’t Be Done – In 1937 the Golden Gate Bridge is opened to traffic.
Beautiful Dining – In 1999, The Last Supper’s restoration was completed.
Sierra Club – In 1892, John Muir became the club’s first president.

Tagged with: ,