On May 28th, 1934, in Corbeil, Ontario, five girls were born two months prematurely to Elzire and Oliva Dionne, a couple who already had five children and little money to speak of. The new arrivals became the first identical quintuplets known to survive more than a few days; media interest was intense. Four months later, believing the parents to be ill-equipped to provide the care necessary, the local government took the quintuplets from their family, placed them in care, and proceeded to exploit them to the fullest. For the next 9 years, the Dionne quintuplets were Canada’s largest tourist attraction: up to 6000 people visited “Quintland” each day to stare at them through one-way glass; an official Quintland shop raked in millions selling all manner of souvenirs; the girls even starred in films and advertisements.
In 1997, the three surviving Dionne quintuplets asked Time magazine to publish the following letter of warning, addressed to Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey, parents of the first septuplets to live beyond infancy.
Dear Bobbi and Kenny,
If we emerge momentarily from the privacy we have sought all our adult lives, it is only to send a message to the McCaughey family. We three would like you to know we feel a natural affinity and tenderness for your children. We hope your children receive more respect than we did. Their fate should be no different from that of other children. Multiple births should not be confused with entertainment, nor should they be an opportunity to sell products.
Our lives have been ruined by the exploitation we suffered at the hands of the government of Ontario, our place of birth. We were displayed as a curiosity three times a day for millions of tourists. To this day we receive letters from all over the world. To all those who have expressed their support in light of the abuse we have endured, we say thank you. And to those who would seek to exploit the growing fame of these children, we say beware.
We sincerely hope a lesson will be learned from examining how our lives were forever altered by our childhood experience. If this letter changes the course of events for these newborns, then perhaps our lives will have served a higher purpose.
Annette, Cécile and Yvonne Dionne