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Dionne Quintuplets
The world's first surviving quintuplets

Dionnes with mother
The Dionne quintuplets with their mother, 1934.
( Library and Archives Canada/PA-133260)

On May 28, 1934, Oliva and Elzire Dionne of Corbeil, Ontario became the parents of five tiny baby girls: Annette, Emilie, Yvonne, Cecile and Marie. Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe helped deliver the premature babies, who together weighed about 13.6 pounds. The identical quintuplets were the first quintuplets in the world to survive more than a few days. News of the miracle babies soon spread to newspapers around the globe.

Dionnes in train
The Dionne quintuplets on a train trip, 1939.
(Library and Archives Canada/PA-122615)
Oliva Dionne was a poor French-Canadian farmer. His wife Elzire was twenty-five when the quintuplets were born--and already the mother of six other children. Dr. Dafoe soon took charge of the babies, the Ontario government secured guardianship, and the Dionne quintuplets were moved to the Dafoe Hospital and Nursery. The girls grew up in a compound, away from their family. For nine years the quintuplets lived in a sort of theme park know as "Quintland", to which about three million tourists came to observe them through a one-way screen. The little girls became a major visitor attraction for the province of Ontario, bringing in an estimated $250 million dollars per year in today's dollars (The Dionnes by Ellie Tesher).

Oliva and Elzire Dionne eventually regained custody of the quintuplets, but the large family continued to face many challenges. As the sisters would later write in the book We Were Five, "There was so much more money than love in our existence. It took a long time to realize what it did to us all." For the most famous children in the world, it was not easy to find happiness. Emilie died in 1954 during an epileptic seizure, and Marie died in 1979. The three remaining sisters lived on a small trust fund and eventually managed to force the Ontario government to compensate them for the many years that the quints were on public display for tourists.

Discover more


  • The Country Doctor
    King, Henry (Director). Twentieith Century Fox, 1936. 94 minutes. Docudrama focusing on Dr. All Dafoe and his involvement with the Dionne Quintuplets.
  • Dionne Quintuplets
    Listen to a CBC Radio clip about the Dionne Quintuplets, broadcast May 28, 1936. From the CBC Archives.
  • Dionne Quintuplets
    Brittain, Donald (Director). National Film Board and CBC co-production, 1978. 88 minutes.
  • The Dionne Quintuplets
    Harper, Ray (Director). National Film Board and Access Network co-production, 1989. 1 hr. 30 minutes.
  • Dionne Quintuplets Born
    Watch a Universal Newspaper Newsreel about the birth of the Dionne Quintuplets. From the University of Virginia website.
  • Dionne Quintuplet Dolls
    84 minutes. Documentary re the official Dionne Quintuplet Dolls manufactured by the Alexander Doll Company.
  • Dionne Quintuplets at Bedtime(1936)
    Watch a YouTube video, 2:35 minutes, about the quints at bedtime.
  • Dionne Quintuplets Newsreel (1953)
    Watch a YouTube video, 2:47 minutes, about the quints growing up.
  • Dionne Quintuplets with Puppies
    Watch a YouTube video, 1:58 minutes.
  • Dionne Quintuplets Singing
    Watch a YouTube video, 1:44 minutes, of the sisters singing and playing.
  • Five of a Kind
    Leeds, Herbert I (Director). 20th Century Fox, 1938. 85 minutes. Feature film about the Dionne Quintuplets.
  • Million Dollar Babies: The Shocking Story of the Dionne Quintuplets.
    Duguay, Christian (Director). CBC/CBS, 1994. 200 minutes. Made-for-television drama, featuring Beau Bridges and Kate Nelligan. Read an interesting paper by Mary Vipond called The Million Dollar Babies and the Media.
  • Reunion
    Tourgog, Norman (Director).
    Twentieth Century Fox, 1936. 80 minutes. A reunion of the Dionne Quintuplets.

  • Berton, Pierre. The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977.
  • Brough, James with Annette, Cecile, Marie and Yvonne Dionne. "We were five": the Dionne quintuplets story from birth through girlhood to womanhood. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965.
  • Soucy, Jean-Yves with Annette, Cécile & Yvonne Dionne. Family Secrets. Toronto: Stoddart, 1996.
  • The DionnesTesher, Ellie. The Dionnes. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, c. 1999.

Thousands of souvenirs depicting the Dionne quintuplets were produced to capitalize on their fame. The items included dolls, spoons, breakfast sets, handkerchiefs, pennants, wall plaques, calendars, note cards, paper dolls, etc. There was even a cake topper featuring a stork and little plastic Dionne babies.

Dionne Quintuplets dolls
Dionne quintuplets dolls made by Madame Alexander Doll Company, New York.
(© CMCC 981.61.1-5)

A reader of heroines.ca from the United Kingdom shared photographs of a Dionne quintuplets souvenir which she inherited from her mother. Moira Beach, who lives in Bakewell, Derbyshire, UK, was surprised to find the small linen cloth depicting the Dionne Quintuplets among her mother's belongings, as her mother was born in Ireland, lived there when the babies were born, and never visited Canada.

Dionne Quintuplets tablecloth
Dionne quintuplets tablecloth.
(© Moira Beach)

Dionne quintuplets memorabilia are still popular on ebay and other shopping websites.

Dionne Quintuplets calendar
Dionne quintuplets calendar.

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