Monday, September 18, 2006

12. A Thirties Melodrama: The Dionne Years by Pierre Burton

ISBN 0-14-013952-4 - Penguin Books, 1977

With the recent advent of fertility drugs and better post-natal care, quintuplets and sextuplets are not unknown - but these are fraternal siblings developing from five or six fertilized eggs. When Elzire Dionne gave birth to five baby girls on 28 May 1934 at Corbeil, near Callendar, Ontario it captured the world's attention. The Dionne Quintuplets - Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie, & Marie - were identical quints from a single egg that split. The odds of giving birth to identical quintuplets are 54 million to one. No other set of surviving identical quintuplets has ever been recorded.

"The custody of the babies was withdrawn from their parents by the Ontario government of Mitchell Hepburn in 1935. The girls were made the wards of the province and they were put under the guidance of Dr. Dafoe and three other guardians. Ontario housed them in Quintland, a theme park located just across from the parents' home. The sisters could be viewed for free by visitors and tourists through a one-way mirror. Approximately 6,000 people per day visited the park to observe the cute celebrities at play. In 1934, the quintuplets brought in around $1 million, and they attracted in total about $51 million of tourist revenue to Ontario. The park became Ontario's biggest tourist attraction of the era. " - source: Wikipedia

One would hope that in today's world this sort of exploitation would not occur. I was, however, amazed to see a "freak show" trailer parked at a recent community event (Polish Festival on Roncesvalles in Toronto). A taped barker attempted to lure the curious with tales about the Elephant Man and shrunken heads. I was smugly pleased that there were very few takers.

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