Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dionne Quintuplets - Ontario - Canada

Today, the 28th of May, is the anniversary of the birth of the Dionne quintuplets in Corbeil, Ontario, Canada in 1934.

This is an event that you might well include on a Canadian family history timeline. Certainly their birth was big news in 1934, (and not only in Canada), but the Dionne sisters were 'news' into the 1940s and 50s too, and even later on.

I wonder though if my 30 year old children would recognize much of the history, some of it very sad, connected to the quints. Early in their lives, the Ontario government took control of them away from their parents - these five Dionne sisters soon became a 'tourist attraction'.

Here's a link to a 1934 newsreel about their birth - there's one scene showing all five of the babies with their mother, Elzire Dionne (née Legros). And here is a link to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio piece about their second birthday - which includes their sounds at birth and at one year of age.

Even many of those who couldn't visit soon became familiar with their lives and their faces, as their images were in newspapers, in film and in advertising, as for example, in this ad for Bee Hive corn syrup. Here's one account of a school trip in 1937, as recalled by Lloyd Dennis ("The Saga of the Quints", posted on-line at The Orillia Packet & Times, Orillia, Ontario, 26 May 2009.

In 1939, the quints and "seven of their eight brothers and sisters" were taken to Toronto in private railway cars to meet the King and Queen who were then touring Canada. The five sisters had a private visit with them, along with their parents, the Premier of Ontario and his wife, Dr. Dafoe, their physician, three of the quints' nurses and one press representative. (Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 22 May 1939, page 1)

The Times of London, England reported that the King and Queen had been said to "particularly" want to meet the sisters. (The Times, Wednesday, 8 March, 1939, page 15)

Canada's then Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, who accompanied the royals on their cross-Canada tour, noted seeing the quints on this occasion in his diary. He is not mentioned in this newspaper article as attending the private audience though.

Dionne Quintuplets arrive in Toronto... Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau / Library and Archives Canada / C-030616

The full description for the photograph above is: "Dionne Quintuplets arrive in Toronto for presentation to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth." This information is hardly correct, since there is no mention of King George VI. I have to suspect that someone was momentarily thinking of the wrong Queen Elizabeth.

The 1939 Royal Visit was George VI's first visit to Canada as King and the first time a reigning monarch had visited Canada. Royal visits to Canada would certainly be appropriate as additions to many Canadian family history timelines. Canadian Heritage has a list of royal visits from 1786 on.

A photograph very similar to this one appeared in The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 23 May 1939 on page one, where it was identified as showing the Dionnie quintuplets "looking "from the windows of their private railway car after their arrival Monday in Toronto" and as an "A.P. Wire. photo". There could be many such similar photographs, of course, taken as the Dionnes arrived in Toronto.

A second photograph in Library & Archives Canada's collections which could be the same as that above is described as showing "Dionne quintuplets in their train car on trip to Toronto. Parents, nurses and guardian." and has this additional information: King George VI and Queen Elizabeth invited Ontario's famous Dionne Quintuplets to meet them at Queen's Park on May 24, 1939, just four days before their fifth birthdays (Helen C. Warswick collection R10690-0-X-E, Library and Archives Canada/PA-122614)

Also from the Warswick collection is the photograph below which seems to have been taken on the same occasion and is described only as: Dionne quintuplets, parents, nurses, and guardian.

Dionne quintuplets, parents, nurses, and guardian. Helen C. Warswick collection R10690-0-X-E, Library and Archives Canada / PA-122616

One article I found in The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 5 May 1939, on page 8, said that after hearing of the quints visit with the King and Queen, the three year old English quadruplets born in 1936 - Anne, Ernest, Michael and Paul Miles - hoped to meet the royal couple too. I wonder if they got their wish? Does anyone have the answer?

More links: This is my own idiosycratic selection of links which I thought might interest you further. There are many on-line articles and collections relating to the Dionne family.

Happy Birthday! posted By GORD YOUNG, North Bay Nugget newspaper, North Bay, Ontario, 28 May, 2009

Dionne Quintuplet Digitization Project - collections of the Callander Bay Heritage Museum, the North Himsworth Public Library, the City of North Bay, the North Bay Area Museum, and the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce (owner of the Dionne Quints Museum), all in Ontario, Canada.


The 5 Dionne Sisters Singing, Quintland (video)

Facts About Multiples: An Encyclopedia of Multiple Birth Records

Note: newspaper articles were accessed through:

Godfrey Memorial Library. Subscription website. The London Times Digital Archive (Gale):

The Manitobia. Free website. Winnipeg Tribune, (various titles):

1 comment:

Raul (hummingbird604) said...

The way the Canadian government treated the Dionne Quintuplets, they should be ashamed. All of Canada should, in my opinion. A sad time in history.