Back in August, the current curator of the Callander Museum Natasha Wiatr sat down with Peter Handley to discuss all things Dionne quintuplets. It was released on December 5, 2019 and is available at the link below, or on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, Tune In Radio and Pocket Casts (search for the Heritage Diary Podcast).
Read the transcript of the podcast here: Transcription of Podcast on the Dionne quintuplets 2019
On this day, July 27, 1934, it was reported that the very first guardianship bill was signed that made the Red Cross the new guardians of the Dionne quintuplets. There is a misconception that the Ontario Government stepped in and removed the girls from the authority of their parents within weeks of their birth – this is not true. It was not until March 15th, 1935 that the Dionne Quintuplets Act was passed in government that made Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Marie and Émilie Wards of the Crown and extended the guardianship until the age of 18.
In the summer of 1934, the signed contract to exhibit the girls at the Chicago World’s Fair was the biggest concern to everyone. Although Mr. Dionne had returned all the money that was sent to him and proclaimed that the deal was invalid because Mrs. Dionne did not sign it, the promoters claimed otherwise and stated the contract was binding. There were fears that such a trip would be an immense toll on the health of the five babies and that they may not survive such an ordeal. To break the contract, a plan was developed that would transfer custody of the girls to the Red Cross which would break the agreement since the Red Cross did not sign the original contract. The agreement was for a period of two years and a board of guardians, made up of Dr. Dafoe, Ken Morrison (a Callander merchant and friend of Dr. Dafoe), grandfather Olivier Dionne, and William Alderson of the Red Cross, was created to manage the affairs of the identical sisters.
As part of this agreement the Red Cross would oversee the construction of a hospital built specifically for Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie and Marie that would have modern equipment and materials. From the July 27th, 1934 North Bay Nugget: “The Red Cross will assume all expenses, covering medical care, food and clothing for a period of two years. This will be extended for three years or more, at the expiration of that time, should the Dionnes consider it necessary.”
From Mr. and Mrs. Dionne’s point of view, it was a solution that would solve their worries, but went against their natural inclination to be parents – doing this would give up their parental rights for a period of time. They also stated that there were threats of assistance being withdrawn if they did not sign. From Lilian Barker’s The Quints Have A Family, she writes, “But she [Elzire] and Oliva couldn’t afford to take chances on the lives of their precious babies. No, no, that was unthinkable. She had fought the idea of the surrender, however, and she had put off as long as possible the signing of the custody agreement.” Later in the book, she states: [Oliva speaking] “Elzire, the time’s getting close… and we’ll have to surrender the babies to the Red Cross today. If we don’t Dr. Dafoe will give up their case and the Red Cross will discontinue all supplies, including the mothers’ milk that’s keeping the jumelles alive. Both the doctor and Mr. Alderson have served notice on me. So make up your mind, chérie, we’ll have to accept the inevitable.”
The two-year custody promise would turn out to be false when Premier Mitchell Hepburn condemned Mr. and Mrs. Dionne for travelling to Chicago in February 1935 to appear on stage as “Parents of the World Famous Babies”. While the purpose of the Chicago Vaudeville trip was to make money, the Dionnes did so with the intention of using it to expand the size of their home and to modernize it with up-to-date special nursery supplies to prepare for when the quintuplets were planned to return home in 1936. Hepburn did not see it this way and instead claimed that if the girls were returned home the parents would exploit them in the same way they had exploited themselves in Chicago. The result was the complete loss of control over the Dionne quintuplets by the family with no end to the arrangement in sight.
On this day, June 5, 1934, it was believed by Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe and his brother Dr. William A. Dafoe that the Dionne quintuplets were identical, as they told the Nugget newspaper, which was later confirmed through various studies of the girls by Dr. William Blatz. One way to determine the likelihood of twins being identical was to take prints of their fingers and palms and tabulate the number of ridge patterns per centimeter and compare the results. The quintuplets’ palm and fingerprints were compared to each other and to those of some of their siblings Ernest, Rose-Marie and Thérèse. The results were published in Dr. Blatz’s The Collected Studies of the Dionne Quintuplets as stated on page 56: “… Émilie 28.4; Yvonne 28.7; Cécile 28.2; Marie 28.9; Annette 28.1. Thus, there are variations within the group. When these are compared, however, to the number of ridges of their siblings, i.e., their brothers and sisters, which vary from 20.8 to 23.4, we can see that the set of five not only differs widely from the brothers and sisters, but that the brothers and sisters differ more widely among themselves.”
Also from page 57: “There is another very curious relationship which the biologists have discovered, and which they consider to be a diagnostic sign of identity… If we compare the four hands of a set of twins, and we find that the left hand of one twin is more like the left hand of the other twin than it is like his own right hand, then the twins are identical… Following this plan the biologists agree that the left hands of Marie and Cécile are more similar than either left is to its own right. Thus Marie and Cécile are identical. Yvonne and Annette are identical through the resemblance of their left, and Yvonne and Cécile through the resemblance of their right hands. Émilie is intimately bound to the others in a similar way. Thus we conclude that on the second count these five are an identical set”. This makes them monozygotic quintuplets.
On this day, June 4, 1950 the monkeys were loose in Callander!
The following story was featured in one of our recent newsletters and was written by Don Clysdale.
Art Ranney and Danny Davis were pre-teens enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon by the Davis docks on Lansdowne Street, when they heard a funny noise, looked up and saw a boxcar flying through the air.
The train carrying the Bernard and Barry Midway from Toronto to Timmins derailed Sunday 4th of June, 1950 at 4:25 in the afternoon by the current Foodland, just south of the Callander train station. The first dozen cars were ok, but the next boxcar was trailing something which caught on the switch for the station yard, and sent the boxcar and the following ones flying. Thirteen boxcars and one passenger car left the rails and were smashed. Strangely, the caboose at the end stayed on the tracks.
One member of the circus cast, Arthur Gagne, 22, of Sudbury, was the only injury when he was hurled from the door of one of the cars. He was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in North Bay, and treated for bruises and shock.
The monkeys escaped and happily played on top of the overturned midway cars, but hurried to their keepers when they appeared. During repairs, the animals were taken from the wrecked boxcars. After the wreck, many children in the area were kept inside for fear there were still circus animals on the loose.
Main Street, also Highway 11 at the time, escaped being blocked, but Lansdowne Street (Hwy 94) was completely blocked, cutting off access to Quintland. Oliva Dionne, father of the quintuplet sisters, was trying to get to town, but had to turn back at the wreckage.
Callander Reeve Leonard Wookey was enjoying his Sunday afternoon nap at his Red Line Inn, when he heard the noise and looked out the window to see a boxcar flying towards him. It stopped in the sand 20 feet before the hotel.
About the most unhappy member of the crew was Lee Garridy of Toronto. He was playing poker with six others, and after 15 losses finally had a good hand when the wreck occurred. He was still carrying his cards in his hand as he looked at the wreckage an hour later.
The twisted rides, games and other accoutrements of the midway attracted almost as much attention as they would have in operation.
Repair crews were very busy repairing the hundreds of feet of chewed up rails and railway ties. Rail traffic started going through Callander again at 6:25 the following morning. In the interim, three trains were rerouted through Capreol. The circus was delayed for two weeks until the show was ready to go again.
It was a busy weekend for circus trains, as no fewer than four trains were in the area. The Bernard and Barry Midway was derailed in Callander. The Dailey Brothers show was setting up in Amelia Park in North Bay for its opening show Monday. Grey’s Show went through the city on its way to Sturgeon falls, and finally the Wallace Brother’s bright orange circus train sped on its way to New Liskeard.
On this day, June 3, 1934, the names of the Dionne quintuplets were written down for perhaps the first time, or at least one of the earliest times. Nurse Yvonne Leroux wrote in her diary: "They have been named - Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie and Marie in order of size. We have small tags on their coats with names on them."
This image shows the June 3 1934 page from Lerou'x diary, courtesy of the Archives of Ontario.
On this day, May 30th, 1934 Chicago reporter Charlie Blake arrived at the Dionne homestead hauling an 1895 incubator after being stopped at the customs boarder. It would have typically fit one baby, but, being so tiny, three of the Dionne quintuplets were placed inside of it. From Louise de Kiriline Lawrence’s book The Quintuplets’ First Year, “It’s outer walls were formed into a container which was filled with warm water. Inside there was a thermometer to control the heat. A sponge always kept moist provided the necessary humidity of the air circulating past the baby inside.” The incubators never ran on electricity or were powered by kerosene. Dr. Dafoe reportedly told Mr. Blake that “those babies don’t know what they owe you” as the timely arrival of the machine had given the girls a chance to fight for survival.
This incubator is currently part of the Saint Louis Science Center Collections because it was built and designed in Saint Louis by Aloe Medical. Image of the incubator arriving courtesy of the Saint Louis Science Center. The other image of Elzire Dionne looking into the incubator with Nurse Yvonne Leroux watching is from the Callander Museum collection.
Interestingly, Coney Island nursed premature babies back to their proper weight using incubators, but there was a catch: the babies would be on display for a paying public to see. The profit would go back to paying the nurses for their care and for other operating costs, they did not charge the parents. They essentially saved thousands of American babies this way.
Thanks to Sarah Miller for helping us find some articles to verify information regarding the incubators!