Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
July 2007

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Dionne Quintuplets


Dionne Quintuplets. World-wide interest was roused when, on May 28, 1934, Mrs. Ovila Dionne, of Callander, Ontario, gave birth to five daughters, named Annette, Emilie, Yvonne, Cécile, and Marie. Among human beings, multiple births to the extent of twins and triplets are not unusual; but quintuplets have been extremely rare, and it is even more rarely that they have lived. For the preservation of the life of the Dionne quintuplets, as well as of the mother, the chief credit should go to Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe, the attending country doctor. Dr. Dafoe, who had been the general medical practitioner in the district for 27 years, not only delivered the babies almost unaided, but he carried them through the first critical months of their existence without serious illness. As soon as news of the arrival of the quintuplets reached the public, help poured in from all sides in the form of money, provisions, clothing. and hospital accessories; and the Canadian Red Cross sent nurses, and provided an incubator which did much to keep the babies alive during the first few weeks. A hospital was erected and equipped, near the Dionne home, where the quintuplets might be cared for; and this hospital was named by the subscribers the Dafoe Memorial Hospital. There was at first grave danger that the quintuplets might become the victims of exploitation. Offers of contracts poured in from theatrical managers and show producers; and what looked at first like a calamity to the Dionne family, when the quintuplets were added to their other six children, seemed like fortune's blessing. But in order to prevent exploitation, the Ontario government stepped in; and on May 27, 1935, the legislature of Ontario passed an Act making the Dionne quintuplets the wards of the province, and appointing three guardians for their protection until they should reach the age of eighteen. See The authorized book of exclusive photographs of the Dionne quintuplets (Racine, Wisconsin, 1935).

[To know more about the Dionne quintuplets, consult the Dionne Quints digitized collections. The Journal of Canadian Studies' issue of Winter 1994-95 contained five interesting articles on the Dionne quintuplets: Cynthia Wright, "They were five: The Dionne Quintuplets Revisited", pp. 5-14, David Welch, "The Dionne Quintuplets: More than an ontario Showpiece - Five Franco-Ontarian children", pp. 36-64 , Mariana Valverde, "Families, Private Property, and the State: The Dionnes and the Toronto Stock Derby", pp. 15-35, Katherine Arnup, "Raising the Dionne Quintuplets: Lessons for Modern Mothers", pp. 65-85, and Kari Dehli, "Fictions of the Scientific Imagination: Reserching the Dionne Quintuplets", pp. 86-110; Pierre Berton has written an eminently readable, and sympathetic, history of the Dionne sisters entitled The Dionne Years, 1977. Berton casted the Dionne family as having been victimized by a self-righteous government that ostensibly intervened to saved the children from an ignorant and exploitive father. In the context of the growth of interventionist states in the 1930's, his contribution was significant. However, Berton did not sufficiently consider how the Franco-Ontarian background of the family and the state of French-English relations in Ontario at the time might have affected the fate of the Dionne quints. This perspective, a novel and fruitful one, although it had already been broached by Welch in his 1994 study, is provided by Gaétan Gervais, professor of history at Laurentian University in a book entitled Les jumelles Dionnes et l'Ontario français (1934-1944). In the book, Gervais argues: " that the fight undertaken by the Association canadienne-française d'éducation d'Ontario (French-Canadian Education Association of Ontario), at the request of the parents, Elzire and Ovila Dionne, constituted in reality one of several battles undertaken by Franco-Ontarians to obtain the control of French-language and catholic education in their province. The author also questioned whether measures as dramatic as guardianship, which had never been adopted elsewhere in Canada, would have been taken if the family had been English-Canadian and protestant." According to Gervais, guardianship - established to prevent exploitation of the children - led in reality to huge benefits for the Government of Ontario and for Dr. Dafoe. Le Centre de recherche en civilisation canadienne-française de l'Université d'Ottawa has reproduced a number of pertinent documents touching on the Dionne quintuplets.]

Source: W. Stewart WALLACE, The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., pp. 209-210. The paragraph between brackets [...] was written by Claude Bélanger.


© 2007 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College