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How 5 Girls Became More Popular than Niagara Falls

The story of the Dionne Quintuplets of Callander, Ontario



On May 28, 1934 five identical girls Annette, Cécile, Yvonne, Marie, and Émilie were born to Elzire and Oliva Dionne on a farm near Callander, Ontario. It was a notable event–these babies were the first surviving quintuplets born anywhere in the world. The story of their birth was front page news and they soon become more popular than Charlie Chaplin and Shirley Temple combined. 

The media circus that resulted from their birth, and the government's decision to remove the babies from their parents (and exploit them for profit), would have lasting consequences for all involved. It was a story that captivated the world. 

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Facts about the Dionne Quintuplets

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.

The babies were born two months prematurely, and all together weighed less than 6.5 kg (13 pounds 5 ounces). At the time, there was a 1 in 57 million chance of giving birth to identical quintuplets, and even a lesser chance for survival. They survived mainly due to the efforts of Dr. Allan DaFoe.

While the Quints were still babies, they were taken away from their parents and became wards of the Ontario government. Elzire Dionne had six children when she gave birth to the quintuplets, and the government, concerned the family didn't have the means to take care of these additional children, stepped in. 

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A nurse plays with the young girls in Quintland

The first nine years of their lives were spent at a 'hospital', built across the street from their parents' home. It became known as Quintland although in reality it was nothing more than a human zoo. Over 3 million people came to view the girls playing behind a one-way screen. The five identical girls became a tourist attraction, said to be more popular than Niagara Falls.

A "Quint Industry" was born, generating millions of dollars for the government. "At the peak of their unparelleled celebrity—as valuable a resource as gold, nickel, pulpwood or hydro power," writes journalist Pierre Berton in the New York Times, "these five little girls represented a $500 million asset to the Province of Ontario." 

After nine years and a bitter custody battle, Elzire Dionne was granted custody of the girls. The family moved into a new home close to Quintland. The mansion was nicknamed "the big house" and the building is now a retirement home.

The girls finished high school from home. At the age of 18, they moved to Montreal and had very little contact with family after that.

Fact: It wasn't until September 1987 that another set of quints (2 boys and 3 girls) were born in Canada.

Plan a Trip to Callander/ North Bay to learn more about the Dionne Quintuplets 

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