We Were Five
April 17, 2008 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Born in Ontario in 1934, they were the first set of identical quintuplets to survive infancy. The girls were an instant sensation. Citing fears of exploitation, they were separated from their parents and named wards of the crown. Despite this, they became one of the largest tourist attractions in Canada, made millions in endorsements and starred in multiple films. In 1943 their parents finally regained custody. Though reunited with their family, they found a new kind of isolation. Adulthood turned sour for the quints: death, family alienation, and divorce marred their later years. They were the Dionne Quintuplets.

More Quintuplet images (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
A summary of the whole story for those short on time
Most of the news articles above are from the Dionne Quintuplets Digitization Project.
1936 2nd birthday radio show that the Dionne parents were forced to listen to a home
Video clips of the Quints' doctor guardian and their father, Olivia Dionnne
More video of the quints showing their fear of puppies and Quintland
Video of the four remaining Quintuplets as they open a flower shop. (Relevant clip starts at 2:30)
The Dionne's story eventually inspired a Simpsons episode.
posted by Alison (14 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
A very sad story in all. I shared my birthday (not date) with them, so I've always been curious about their story.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:24 AM on April 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

One of the disconcerting features of our time is the enthusiasm generated across the entire planet by the Dionne sisters, for numerical and biological reasons. Dr. William Blatz has devoted a large volume to them, predictably illustrated with charming photographs. In the third chapter, he states: “Yvonne is easily recognzable for being the eldest, Marie for being the youngest, Annette because everyone mistakes her for Yvonne, and Cecile because she is completely identical to Emelie.”
-Jorge Luis Borges, “The Dionne Quints”
posted by Iridic at 9:26 AM on April 17, 2008

I can't believe this never made the blue before. Excellent post.
posted by Bonzai at 9:38 AM on April 17, 2008

Great links, thanks!
posted by briank at 9:41 AM on April 17, 2008

Yeah, the Dionne Qunits are as Canadian as a 2 dollar coin. Surprising this story has never been told on MetaFilter. Great post.
posted by GuyZero at 9:43 AM on April 17, 2008

Their story is fascinating and heartbreaking. Great post!

Also, this pic has totally been 'shopped!!
posted by Locative at 10:25 AM on April 17, 2008

Distant relatives were all caught up in Quintmania, amassing the largest collection in the world. It included everything from original birth certificates, cribs, clothes, and even their homework papers. They were featured in the first chapter of the book The Dionnes. Unfortunately they both passed away last year, and the collection is in limbo, probably going to be split in an auction.
posted by Gungho at 10:38 AM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Surprising this story has never been told on MetaFilter.

Well, it is about Canada. Pretty rare to see one of those.
posted by three blind mice at 10:52 AM on April 17, 2008

Beauty FPP, eh? (repeat 5 times... that's 30 metric.)
posted by not_on_display at 11:05 AM on April 17, 2008

And know you know... The Rest of the Story.
posted by smackfu at 11:05 AM on April 17, 2008

Citing fears of exploitation

Shouldn't that read "Citing fears that the government won't profit from their exploitation" ?

The remaining three living on a pathetic pension when the government of Ontario profited to the tune of MILLIONS from their exploitation is a travesty.
posted by chimaera at 11:08 AM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Groucho: Here are the contracts. You just put his name at the top, and you sign at the bottom. No need of you reading that because these are duplicates.

Chico: Yeah. Is a duplicate. Duplicates?

Groucho: I say, they're duplicates. Don't you know what duplicates are?

Chico: Sure, those five kids up in Canada.

Groucho: I wouldn't know about that. I haven't been in Canada in years.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:52 AM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a resident of North Bay I travel by the Dionne farmhouse everyday (it was restored and moved from Corbeil and now sits between a Home Depot and a Best Western Express Hotel). Since I've lived here I've always been a little surprised by the lack of local attention paid to the Quints. Aside from a cursorary mention in North Bay tourism information and the understated work of some local heritage groups, the Dionne girls now occupy a very quiet place in the local legacy. I didn't quite get this until I happened to speak to an older resident of the city, and the subject of the Dionne's came up. This very gracious elderly lady informed me that many of the locals found "the circus around those poor girls" very distasteful and " if any one has earned a bit of piece and quiet, it would be the Dionne girls. They certainly paid dearly for it." This was an attitude that was shared, almost unanimously, by many of the senior residents I later talked to who, to their credit, realized that they profited from the tourism dollars as much as anyone (likely moreso), but the girls has indeed earned a degree of anonymity, at least from them.
posted by Isosceles at 3:46 PM on April 17, 2008

Isoceles, North Bay represent! The Dione Quint Museum, aside from the Home Depot and Best Western, also happens to be located beside a new car dealership, across from a Tim Horton's, diagonally across from a strip club, and near a dirty hole in the ground where all the plowed winter snow melts during the summer (the company it keeps...)

About 14 years ago I remember watching a CBC mini-series on the Quints, can't remember if it was well done or not.
posted by curbstop at 9:55 PM on April 17, 2008

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