The Dionne quintuplets at Quintland © DR
On May 28, 1934 in Canada in the province of Ontario, Mrs. Dionne gives birth to five little girls. Born two months in advance, all survived miraculously, experienced immediate popularity but were victims of commercial exploitation.
The five Dionne sisters are Annette, Cecile, Yvonne, Marie and Émilie. They are born in the village of Corbeil in Ontario. From the same egg, Elzira, the mother, had no idea to carry five babies. Multiple births are extremely rare at the time, with regard to the quintuplets it is a childbirth on 57,000. The Dionne quintuplets are the first to be born viable. In fact, they immediately caught the attention of the world.
Infants who are worth gold
While still a baby, the Ontario government decides to take away the quintuplets from their parents on the pretext that the father would have been tempted to use them commercially. For almost a decade, until they returned to their families, it is the Ontario government that “provides” girls with education.
But it creates especially the “Quintland”, a kind of amusement park that exploits the phenomenon and allows the population to come to admire the quintuplets. The five girls are totally separated from their families but also from other children of their age. They do not know school or children’s games.
The twins are raised surrounded by nurses and doctors in a sort of laboratory called Quintland. They are exposed to visitors several times a day. In just under 10 years, the quintuplets reportedly brought half a billion to the Ontario government.
The Dionne sisters become objects of memory. Their image is reproduced on postcards, calendars or cups. They are also included in advertisements for toothpaste, soap, shampoo or vaccination.
During their years in Quintland, the Dionne twins suffer from a lack of affection and love. Their parents, who live in front of Quintland, must make an appointment to see their children.
Between 1935 and 1945, they were shown as circus beasts to millions of tourists.
At the time, an average of 3000 visitors went to the park to see the curiosity, which was said to be more popular than Niagara Falls. From 1936 to 1942, these visits would have generated revenues amounting to $ 500 million.
Detail of a photo of the Dionne binoculars taken by N. E. A. Service inc. (1937)
In 1998, after several years of refusing to hear the complaints of the sisters, now in their sixties, poor and epileptic, Mike Harris’s government granted Cécile, Yvonne and Annette Dionne financial compensation of four million Canadian dollars for the years. of Quintland that they have suffered. Currently two Dionne sisters are still alive. Annette and Cécile live together near Montreal and will celebrate their 80th birthday this year.
Dolls with Dionne sisters © Flaubert Museum
In the 1980s and 1990s, there was recognition of the mistreatment of quintuplets. In 1998, the Ontario government offered its apologies and significant financial compensation to the three living Dionne sisters.
Annette, left, Yvonne, centre, and Cecile pictured in 1998.