Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Dionne Sisters

The first set of quintuplets to survive infancy, and the female identical set of five ever recorded, were the Dionne sisters (Anette, Cecile, Emilie, Marie, and Yvonne) born in Callander, Ontario, Canada on May 28, 1934.

Four months after their birth, the Ontario governmentfound the parents to be unfit for the quintuplets and Olivaand Elzire Dionne lost the custody of their five girls, originally for a guardianship of two years The reason for taking them away was to ensure their survival into healthy toddlers, but when the government realized the mass interest in the girls, they were made wards of the provincial crown, planned until they reached the age of 18.

The Dafoe Hospital and Nursery was built and here the girls were privately tutored and had occasional contact with their parents and five other siblings.

The compound also had a outdoor playground designed to be a public observation area. It was surrounded by a covered arcade that allowed tourists to observe the sisters behind one-way screens. Two to three times a day the sisters were brought out to play for 30 minutes as 6,000 people per day came to watch them. From the sisters' point of view, the tourists were generally heard but not seen.

Close to three million people came to see the girls between 1936-1943. Their father ran a souvenir shop and concession stand across opposite the nurseryalong with Madam LeGros and Madame LeBelle who opened up their own souvenir and dining stand.
In 1934, the Quintuplets brought in about $1 million, and they attracted in total about $51 million of tourist revenue to Ontario. It became Ontario's biggest tourist attraction of the era, at the time surpassing the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.

In 1943, the Dionne parents won back the custody of the quintuplets. Their entire family moved into newly built yellow brick, 20-room mansion that was paid for out of the quintuplets' fund. The sisters left the family home when they turned 18 and had little contact with their parents afterwards. Emilie and Marie died before reaching middle age and the surviving quintuplets prefer to be referred to as the Dionne sisters instead of quintuplets.

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