Sudbury·Video

History on the move: Dionne quints house headed to North Bay waterfront

A century-old log home is set to travel through the streets of North Bay, Ont. this weekend. The house where the Dionne Quintuplets were born in 1934 is moving to a new location on the city's waterfront.

Century-old log home is moving for the third time this weekend

The century-old Dionne quintuplets house is separated into two pieces so it can be moved to a new location in downtown North Bay. (Erik White/CBC)

Andrea Purdy moves houses every day.

But she isn't used to having several cameras watch her and the crews from Almaguin Building Movers when she does it.

There was a little crowd on a snowy day in North Bay to see a log home separated into two pieces for easy transport on Sunday to a new spot on the waterfront in the city's downtown.

"It's already quite a hectic job as it is normally, so when you're on film while you're doing it you have to make sure you're doing everything right and watching your language and telling the guys to behave themselves then yes it does get a little more stressful," Purdy says with a laugh.

It was a humble farmhouse in the northern Ontario wilderness until 1934 when the Dionne quintuplets were born within its walls.

Like those five girls, it then became a tourist attraction and has been moved twice before, both times so it could be used as a museum to the quintmania that transformed this corner of northern Ontario in the last century.

The tourist park known as "Quintland" has somewhat faded into history, some of its buildings being turned into the Nipissing Manor retirement home. 

But Natasha Wiatr, the curator of the nearby Callander Bay Museum, works to preserve the story about how the phenomenon saved the local economy during the Great Depression, saw Highway 11 built up to North Bay and established the area as a tourist hotspot.

"I don't know if I'd want to use the word celebrating," Wiatr says of the quints story.

"Simply because there is a lot of pain and hardship regarding the Dionne family and it still is very much alive today. There is a lot of hurt and a lot of unsettled feelings. Yes it's important the story be told, but it has to be done in a respectful way."

Wiatr is thrilled the Dionne house is staying in North Bay and will be re-opened as a museum to help her share that history.

Ed Valenti, the chair of the Dionne Quints Heritage Board, is excited to see the historic log house where the girls were born moved to its new home on the North Bay waterfront. (Erik White/CBC)

But making North Bay the permanent home for the Dionne house has not been without controversy.

Earlier this year, city council was close to approving a plan to give the home to a pioneer village in the Sundridge area, making way for the land it currently sits on to be sold and turned into a gas station and fast food restaurant.

But a citizens group, now known as the Dionne Quints Heritage Board whipped up public support and eventually convinced council to pay $150,000 to move the house to the waterfront downtown.

Board chair Ed Valenti believes the story of the quints will once again bring tourists to the city and that the museum can make money in the years to come.

"We believe that we can turn around that. That's an investment in the future," says Valenti.

"North Bay wouldn't be what North Bay is without the Dionne quints."

City councillor Mark King was against keeping the Dionne house in North Bay.

And he's concerned the heritage board has already come back to council asking for $35,000 in operating funds, which so far, council has turned down.

"I haven't been overly happy about it, I'll be honest with you," says King.

"It's a little bit of a slippery slope and council is on it right now."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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