Canada has more than its fair share of historical events and places, but I’ve always thought that of the Dionne quintuplets was a bit of an oddity.
Born in the small Ontario town of Corbeil on May 28, 1934, the Dionne quintuplets may be the only set of identical quintuplets ever recorded and are the first quintuplets known to have survived their infancy. The odds of naturally occurring quintuplets are estimated to be about one in 55,000,000 births, but the odds of identical quintuplets are considered incalculable.
Their births during the Great Depression captured the world’s attention, and the sisters quickly became an international sensation.
I’m not sure why yesterday was chosen as the date to commemorate their lives, but the MP for Nipissing, Anthony Rota, unveiled a commemorative plaque at the Dionne Quintuplets birth home museum in North Bay which was moved from Corbeil in the 1980s.
The sad part of the story is that quintuplets were put under the control of a board of guardians soon after their birth and the girls spent their first nine years at “Quintland,” a specially-built facility where they were featured as a tourist attraction. Millions of tourists travelled from around the world to see them and witness firsthand the survival of the world’s most famous babies. Eventually, they were returned to their family in 1943. Could you imagine the outrage if that happened today?
In 1997, three of the surviving quintuplets (one has since died) wrote an open letter to the parents of septuplets, warning them about the exploitation they endured:
“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 this day we receive letters from all over the world. To all those who have expressed their support in light of the abuse we have endured, we say thank you. And to those who would seek to exploit the growing fame of these children, we say beware.”