In 1934 in Ontario, Canada, Oliva Édouard and mother Elzire Dionne gave birth to 5 twins, doomed to a sadly bitter fame which would have led to exploitation and unhappiness.
Before studies about fertility would highlight the non-rarity of multiple birth, the happening of such episodes were celebrated as unique events.
In this scenario, the five twins came to life and their own sake was soon overshadowed by the yearning for fame and money.
Below: the head physician Mitchell Hepburn with the twins in 1934
Their names were Cécile Marie Émilda, Émilie Marie Jeanne, Marie Reine Alma, Yvonne Édouilda Marie and Anette Lillian Marie, sisters of other 4 children
The twins, born as premature babies, were entrusted by Dr. Dafoe. The doctor, in charge of the neonatal clinic, seemed unsure about the babies survival, however their conditions got stabilised.
The news about their survival started spreading all over Ontario, making the children the most famous case within the country
Even though their popularity was growing every day a little more, the same could not be said about their income. Beside that, the government took the twins away from the family as they judged them incapable of providing for the 5 babies. Dr. Dafoe became the trustee of the girls even though they always partially remained under their father’s legal protection too.
Below: Dr. Dafoe with the Dionne twins
It is said that the Ontario government had developed an interest towards the Dionne babies whom were drawing lots of tourism, increasing the economy of the federal state. Since they gave up custody of the girls, they took them at the Dafoe Hospital and Nursery where they created a wing specifically by Dr Dafoe. The man had a clear routine for their lives and future.
Some time later, the natural father opened up a little souvenir shop called the “Quintland”. The shop was not too far from the hospital and he would sell autographed pictures of the twins, dolls with their features, and stones coming from the Dionne farm, passed off as amulets for fertility.
The exploitation of the poor children were just at its inception
The days of the 5 twins were marked by set times and almost mechanical actions, decided by the Doctor. Apart from the medical staff, the children had very little contact with other people, excluding the visitors. Between the 1936 and the 1943 more than 3.000.000 people went to the hospital to see them: they could observe them playing in a outdoor garden. During their stay at the hospital they got continually tested in relation to studies about fertility. Furthermore the Doctor started using them as testimonials for his advertisements on his products, which translated into an important sales growth.
In 1943, after many judicial acts, the Dionne family managed to get back the custody of their children as well as their trust funds. These were used by the family in order to improve the condition of living of the whole family. They bought a house of twenty rooms not too far from the Quintland, equipped of luxurious comforts for that epoch.
While the Dionne said they wanted to include the girls into their family, they were often giving them to others or sent on tour around the state, so that they could make some money out of it.
Below: The twins with their parents and other people on guard duty
In the little time spent home with them, the girls were forced to work heavily, very often divided by their brothers and in a severe condition of exploitation.
The nightmare ended in 1952 when the twins turned 18 and decided to leave home
Below: The00 twins with their parents and a priest, 1947
They attempt to forget the sadness felt during their childhood and starting a new life, far from the show biz they had imposed on them. While Marie, Annette and Cécile got married and had their own children, Yvonne became a sculptor then a librarian and Émilie took her vows and became a nun. Émilie died tragically shortly after due to a epileptic seizure in her 20’s, followed by Marie’s dead due to an aneurism at 35 years old and Yvonne at 67 years old.
Below: Yvonne, Cécile and Annette Dionne in 1999
In 1995, Annette, Cécile and Yvonne testified to have endured both psychological and sexual abuses. In 1998, the government of Ontario, after a deal agreed with the twins, compensated them 2,8 millions of dollars because of the exploitation the went through their youth.
The other two sisters still alive Cécile and Annette, lived together for a while in Montreal, after divorcing from their respecting husbands. They stayed together up until Cécile health condition got worse and they had to take her to a nursing home, place where she still lives.
Nowadays, at least the 78% of multiple births happen in the US and that is believed to have been possible because of the many tests about fertility carried out throughout the years. Certainly the Dionne twins took part in that, unfortunately victims of a stingy society that was seeing in them just a sensationalist number and a machine to make money with, without noticing what they just were, as in
five innocent little girls
Below: cover of the film “The Country Doctor” 1936, where they all played as themselves
Below: “Reunion” from the 1936
Below: “Five of a Kind”, 1938
Below: an example of a video with the twins filmed in
All pictures are in the public domain