The Strange Saga of the Dionne Quintuplets

Started to do this story for the Metro, but it didn’t really fit the feel of my column, so I scrapped for another one. But I thought you guys might still be interested, so I’m gonna post it on here.

There has been a firestorm of controversy surrounding Nadya Suleman, the out of work mother who recently gave birth to octuplets. But this isn’t the first controversy surrounding multiple births.

The Dionne septuplets were born in Ontario in 1934, and were the first quintuplets to survive infancy. At the ago of four months, they were made wards of the State, as the local government realized that they were worth a fortune. The state built them a house with a playground surrounded by a one way screen, so that tourists could see the five girls playing three times a day. About 6,000 people came daily to the observation gallery at Quintland, and watched the girls play as if they were monkeys in a zoo. Over 8 years, the quintuplets brought in about $51 million of tourist revenue to Ontario*, and attracted more visitors than the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Their fame also made them popular spokepeople for various products, such as Karo Corn Syrup (Because who among us hasn’t wondered, as we scarfed down some pancakes, what brand of syrup quintuplets would use?)

Their parents, who had made a fortune off of the girls by selling souvenirs, regained custody when the girls were ten. They took them on tour, and regularly had them all dress the same, even when they were in their teens. When the girls turned 18, they left the family home and rarely spoke with their parents again.

In 1998, the surviving three Dionnes, who were living near poverty, sued Ontario for million in the tourism revenues they generated (and saw very little of) in the 1930s and 1940s and were awarded $4 million dollars.

*The city is looking for ways to reduce the deficit. How about a quintuplet playground?

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