I share a birthday with 5 famous sisters! Many people may not have heard about these identical girl quintuplets born in 1934 against all odds in a small farmhouse in Callander, Ontario, Canada. I read a great book that follows the first 5 years of their lives in a fiction story, but the facts are true.
The Quintland Sisters by Canadian author Shelley Wood, was published in 2019 as a work of fiction to inform the public in an entertaining way of a forgotten time in Canada’s history. Even though the book is fiction, many of the names and events are real and actual newspaper clippings are cleverly weaved throughout to let the reader know that these children existed.
The story is told through the eyes of a young 17 yr. old nurse, Emma, who was present at the births and nursed them through their first 5 years. She expresses such a caring nature, seeing each child as an individual with unique qualities and personalities, rather than as a ubiquitous group of 5. She is the eyes inside the nursery showing them absolute love. Emma’s artistic talent highlights the inside story through her sketches of the girls while she grows up alongside them. Hers is a journey of caring in an otherwise world of living in a fish bowl.
THE REAL LIFE STORY
The Dionne Quintuplets were born in Callander, Ontario on May 28, 1934 to impoverished French farmers who already had 5 children. The 3 room farmhouse had no electricity or running water, yet these babies, who were born 2 months premature and not expected to survive, became the first quintuplets known to have survived their infancy! The total weight of the quintuplets was thirteen pounds six ounces.
A few short months after their birth, custody was signed over to the Red Cross (to cover medical costs) who moved them across the street into a dedicated nursery/hospital and Dr. Allan Dafoe (who delivered the babies) became a guardian and the primary caregiver.
The government soon stepped in, realizing the potential tourist attraction for the public, and the girls were made wards of the provincial Crown. The girls were on display two times a day behind a one-way glass where visitors would line up for hours just to get a glance of these extraordinary children. At the peak of this media circus, there were over 6,000 visitors per day! The girls were so cute and identical and their photos were used to make money and sell a variety of products, most notably corn syrup (which they added to the infant’s bottles). There were three Hollywood movies made about the quintuplets and they were visited by many famous people including Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Betty Davis, Shirley Temple and Amelia Earhart (just 6 weeks before she went missing). Even though there wasn’t an entrance fee to see the girls, the influx of tourists to the area brought in millions of dollars through souvenir shops and guest services. The area quickly became deemed “Quintland” and became Ontario’s biggest tourist attraction of the era, surpassing the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.
As WWII approached years later, and tourism dropped, the girls returned to their home across the street at the age of 9 to live with their parents. The family now lived in a 20 room mansion that was paid for by the quintuplet’s fund. Their lives were changed forever, and sadly as people stopped watching them, the rest of their story is quite tragic as a result of their exploitation. Two of the sisters are alive today (age 86), however the other three died at ages 20, 35 and 67.
Today, the site is abandoned with no historical plaque to mark the years of activity and interest around the quints. The original farmhouse was converted into the non-profit Dionne Quintuplets Museum and moved to the larger city of North Bay nearby. It features many artifacts from the quints’ early days and their growing years.
LESSONS FROM THE BOOK
The author’s wish, as expressed in The Jenny McCarthy Show, is that the story isn’t forgotten and that all children are special and need support and protection. The quintuplets are part of Canadian history and the hope is that no more children will ever go through this type of upbringing on display. The author has donated a share of the novel’s proceeds to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
Did you know about these identical quintuplets? I have always been fascinated by them since I was born in Ontario as well and I have the same birthday! Let me know if you read The Quintland Sisters; it’s a fascinating glimpse into an extraordinary time in Canadian history!
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