CBC Digital Archives

1934: Quintuplets born to Dionne family in Ontario

media clip
On May 28, 1934, five identical girls are born to Elzire and Oliva Dionne in Callander, Ontario. The five sisters - Annette, Cecile, Yvonne, Marie and Émilie - become known as the Dionne quintuplets, and together they weigh less than 6.5 kilograms. Against all expectations, they survive their first weeks.

When the quints are still babies, the Ontario government takes the sisters from their parents, apparently to protect their fragile health, and makes the girls wards of the state. For the first nine years of their lives, they live at a hospital in their hometown that becomes a tourist mecca called "Quintland." The Ministry of Public Welfare sets up a trust fund in their behalf with assurances that the financial well-being of the entire Dionne family would be taken care of "for all their normal needs for the rest of their lives."

Between 1934 and 1943, about 3 million people visit Quintland. The government and nearby businesses make an estimated half-billion dollars off the tourists, much of which the Dionne family never sees. The sisters are the nation's biggest tourist attraction - bigger than Niagara Falls.

• After nine years and a bitter custody fight, the girls moved back with their parents and their other siblings. They received only a fraction of the promised financial returns.

• There is still a mystery surrounding what happened to the money the Ontario government placed in a trust fund for the quints, though it's believed that most of the funds went to pay for the many employees of "Quintland."

• After years of wrangling over compensation, the Ontario government formally apologized to the surviving quints on March 6, 1998. The government offered the quints a $4-million lump-sum payment, which the quints accepted after having rejected a previous offer of only $2000 a month.

• In 2002, there are only two surviving Dionne quints. Émilie died of an epileptic seizure in 1954; Marie died of a blood clot in 1970; and Yvonne died of cancer in 2001.

• The odds of giving birth to identical quintuplets without the aid of reproductive technology are one in 57 million.

Also on May 28:
1808: Canadian explorer Simon Fraser begins a trip down the British Columbia River that would eventually bear his name.
1927: The House of Commons approves the Old Age Pension Plan. It is to be paid to those in need over the age of 70, in co-operation with participating provinces.
1995: Jacques Villeneuve becomes the first Canadian winner of the Indianapolis 500 auto race.
2000: The remains of an unknown Canadian soldier are interred at the National War Memorial in Ottawa after being returned from Vimy Ridge, France.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News Special
Broadcast Date: May 28, 1936
Guest(s): David A. Croll
Duration: 6:43
Photo: National Archives of Canada / PA-122616

Last updated: November 3, 2014

Page consulted on November 3, 2014

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Auschwitz: Mengele's twins

Two men who suffered at the hands of the sadistic Nazi doctor are reunited in Vancouver.

This Hour has Seven Days: Fertility drugs and...

Seven Days is back for a second season, and is feisty from the start.