The Dionnes, Part 3

Dr. Dafoe quarantined the Dionne Quintuplets “to keep the germs away.” That meant keeping people away, too – like the Quints’ parents and the rest of their family. There’s a film clip that shows the result: Jean Hersholt, who played a version of Dr. Dafoe in the three 20th Century Fox features, presents a puppy to the sisters. They’ve never seen a puppy before (dogs have germs, except when Hollywood needs a puppy scene), so the sisters are frightened and back away. It was supposed to be a cute scene. It was a disaster. They stopped the camera, probably had a talk with the girls, then started again. It clearly demonstrates their isolated existence – yet it was used in the feature.

Quintland was the world’s first theme park. It’s estimated that three million people made the trip to see the Quints in person. Often, over two miles of stop-and-go traffic “clued everyone in” that they were getting close.

The Dafoe Hospital had an outdoor playground. Surrounding it on three sides was an enclosed, horseshoe-shaped viewing area. Supposedly, the darkness inside the viewing area, coupled with screens of some sort, would make it impossible for the Quints to know that they were being observed. But the quints caught on quickly – they might not have been able to see the tourists, but they certainly could hear them.

What’s missing in the story of the Dionne Quintuplets… is a hero. Someone who rides to the rescue. Someone who says “This is wrong and it has to stop.”
  • It wasn’t Dr. Dafoe, who commandeered the quints, was celebrated by the press as a savior, and made a lot of money.
  • It wasn’t Oliva Dionne, whose initial reaction to the birth was to “sell the Quints,” in order to make a lot of money.
  • It wasn’t Father Daniel Routhier, from whom Oliva Dionne sought guidance and who suggested that, since the children were a miracle from God, 7% of the money should be given to the church.
  • It wasn’t Elzire Dionne, who had married at 16 and was the embarrassed mother of 10 at age 25.
  • It wasn’t Dr. W.E. Blatz, who headed the team from St. George’s School for Child Study at the University of Toronto, who cataloged every move the Quints made but either did not see, or did not want to see, the big picture.
  • It wasn’t Mitchell Hepburn, the premier of Ontario, who arranged for the Quints to be taken from their parents legally, via a “guardianship” act that officially gave the government and Dafoe full charge.

Yvonne, Marie, Emilie, Annette and Cecile had to become their own heroes.

They didn’t all make it through… but as this ‘behind the scenes’ production video for the TV movie “Million Dollar Babies” shows, Yvonne, Cecile, and Annette Dionne lived to tell the tale.


Quints Digitization Project
Quintland Site
Second Birthday Party (Audio)
Picture Album

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Dionnes, Part 2

The picture above is titled “First Dates.” There probably had been no “first dates” for any of the Dionne Quintuplets at the time it was painted. The artist has taken certain small liberties in his rendition, one of which was the decision to ignore reality, not only in what the sisters were doing, but also what they looked like.


Search the web, search the collectible market, and you’ll find baby pictures galore, adolescent pictures a-plenty, but very few photos of the sisters when they were in their teens. It’s a shame, in both senses of that word.

I’m in the process of pulling together Dionne video clips, and with any luck at all, I’ll post them tomorrow.

Meantime, lest you think that the Dionne Quintuplets were exploited exclusively by Dr. Dafoe, the Canadian government and the general public (hundreds of whom appear in the clip tape; an estimated 3 million people traveled to “Quintland” in Ontario to see the Quints in person at one of the daily showings) let me point out that the medical community turned their childhoods into one long observation period. An adoring public wanted to know everything about “their quints;” the medical community did, in fact, know everything about them. A few exhibits will suffice. The only two-year-olds who need a Dayplanner:
Those watching even watched what each quint watched:

Click Here for Part 3 – some truly astounding clips, including footage of three of the sisters coming back to look over the “hospital” where they were incarcerated for nearly ten years.

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Dormant Dionne Virus Flares

Oh, I should know better.

I’m listening to an audiobook: The Immortal Game by David Shenk. A history of chess.

At the beginning of the book, the author suggests that the best way to understand chess is to think of it as a virus that infects the brain, pushing all other thoughts aside.

I have a virus like that. Nothing to do with chess; I’m Mr. Patzer.

This other “brain virus” – the one I seem to suffer from – began with a localized outbreak in Ontario, Canada, in May of 1934. It spread quickly, infecting tens of millions of people, and didn’t disappear until well into the 1940’s. Truth be told, in the depths of the great depression, most people were only too willing to let their other thoughts get pushed aside.

It is no longer a threat, although it’s still possible to catch this virus via direct brain-to-brain transmission. The internet may have spawned one or two isolated cases.

I’ve been in remission for years, but yesterday, I was archiving an old VHS tape onto DVD and made a terrible mistake. I started watching the program. I couldn’t stop and subsequently suffered a severe flare-up.

A bit of that program appears below.

WARNING: It is very likely that you already have full immunity to this virus, and it is highly improbable that exposure to the short video will result in infection. If, however, you feel yourself becoming transfixed, stop watching immediately and call a doctor. With that warning, meet Annette, C├ęcile, Emelie, Marie and Yvonne Dionne.

Doctor Dafoe. The “modest little country doctor” whose ability to take advantage of his patients wasn’t equaled until Brian Wilson’s therapist started taking co-writing credit and put himself into the will.

It is the proud Doctor Dafoe who presents the sisters.

Doctor Dafoe who “permits the parents to see their babies occasionally.”

Did he invent the lies, or just go along with them? Dafoe only delivered two of the sisters (two midwives handled the first three), and while his efforts may indeed have saved some lives in the Quintuplets’ first few days of life, no one today could deny that Dafoe’s lasting legacy and enduring achievement was the total destruction of the Dionne family. Dafoe, in collusion with the government, built a “hospital” across the street from the Dionne home, kidnapped the babies, and displayed them to the public as a tourist attraction.

If there was something beneath Doctor Dafoe’s dignity, it was never discovered. Eventually, Oliva Dionne (the sisters’ father) went public with his displeasure, and eventually, he won them back. But by then it was too late.

It seems incredible today, even unimaginable, but the Dionne Quintuplets were a source of continuing fascination and infatuation in the months and years following their birth. People kept scrapbooks of magazine pictures, went to see Dionne newsreels and feature movies, devoured articles by the dozen, and bought Quintuplet calendars, spoons, dolls, books, postcards and whatever the Quints endorsed: dental cream, syrup, candy bars, soap, disinfectant and breakfast food, to name just a few. The quints even endorsed “Body By Fisher”for General Motors.

Today, it is not uncommon for sets of quintuplets and even sextuplets to occur (fertility drugs) and survive (sophisticated neonatal care).

Yet the survival of the Dionnes – identical quintuplets – remains unique. Twice before their birth (in 1786 and 1849) and four times since (in 1936, 1959, 2004, and 2007) identical quintuplets have been born, but the Dionne Quintuplets still represent the only instance where all five infants survived.

The word “miracle” is tossed about the Dionnes almost as frequently as the word “magic” is brought into play for Disney. But if their birth and survival were, as many believed, the result of divine intervention, it’s difficult to understand why a subsequent miracle never materialized to save the girls from a life of confusion, exploitation, misery, and poverty. Two of the five are still alive today.

This is how the virus has mutated: the original strain was cultivated in those willing to believe the “fairy-tale” existence myth propagated by the media. The current strain has to do with truth and tragedy. Click here for Part Two of this post.

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