On This Day: Dionne quintuplets return home nine years after being confiscated by Canadian politicians

The world's first surviving quintuplets – who had become a public spectacle with over 3million visitors to their nursery - were reunited with their parents and seven other siblings

NOVEMBER 17, 1943: The world’s first surviving quintuplets returned home on this day in 1943 - nine years after being confiscated by Canadian politicians when they were just four months old.

The five Dionne girls – who had become a public spectacle with over 3million visitors to their nursery - were reunited with their parents and seven other siblings.

Poor Catholic farmers Oliva Dionne and wife Elzire, who were deemed unfit parents in 1934, regained custody after fighting the Ontario provincial government in court.

Fellow French Canadian campaigners, who paid their legal fees, argued that the couple had been victims of sectarianism and francophobia.

These prejudices were then common among Canada’s English-speaking, protestant majority.

Sadly, the return to their family did not herald happier times for Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie and Marie Dionne, who when two years old were filmed dancing around their nursery in a British Pathé newsreel.

They later claimed they felt resented by their parents – despite their earnings providing a luxury lifestyle for them – and remained isolated from the world.

And in 1995 – after the death of two quintuplets – the then remaining three claimed their father sexually abused them as teenagers.

They all suffered from epilepsy and Émilie, who had planned to become a nun, was the first to die after having a seizure and suffocating on her pillow at age 20 in 1954.

The quintuplets had little understanding of how to cope as adults and by 1955, the remaining four had each spent every last cent of their ample trust funds.

The 119,000 Canadian dollars wasted would be worth around £1million today, after taking inflation into account.

Tragedy struck again in 1970 when Marie, who had two daughters during a shortlived marriage, died from a bloodclot and her body was left undiscovered for days.
The Dionne quintuplets in May 1943, a few weeks before their ninth birthday. (PA)
Elzire Dionne with her prematurely born quintuplets in May 1934. (PA)
The three remaining siblings were then forced to live together in a small apartment in Montreal after mother-of-five Cécile and mother-of-three Annette both divorced.

Today only two quintuplets survive  - Yvonne died from cancer at age 67 in 2001 after having never married.

Six decades after they were taken from their family, the surviving quintuplets received an apology from the Ontario government and $2.8million (£1.7million) compensation.


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But this is a fraction of the estimated $351 earned in tourism revenue by Canada’s most populous and historically richest province.

Their exploitation began shortly after birth on May 28, 1934 in Corbiel, near the border with Quebec, Canada’s only province with a French-speaking majority.

Few people then had ever heard of anyone having triplets, much less five identical girls.

And it wasn’t until the fertility treatments became available decades later that we saw any new quints – with Britain’s first set being born to Irene Hanson in 1969.
The Dionne quintuplets and their little brother Claude wait to greet Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh …
Spectacle: The quintuplets lives were turned into a film in 1938. (Rex)
So, in order to pay for their upbringing, Mr and Mrs Dionne signed a contract with U.S. fair exhibitors Century of Progress, which would see the girls go on tours.

But the Ontario government, which had been deluged by complaints from angered citizens , revoked the deal and took custody.


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Yet, despite claiming that their only motivation was keeping the girls alive, they quickly built a nursery and surrounding theme park that was nicknamed Quintland.

It soon became Canada’s biggest tourist attraction – even surpassing the Niagara Falls – with 6,000 paying visitors a day watching the children through one-way windows.

Since their ordeal, the Dionne quintuplets spent much of their lives trying to avoid this kind of publicity.
And, apart from accusing their deceased father of sexual abuse, they have only spoken out to warn parents of multiple-birth children not to exploit them as 'entertainment'.

In 1997, they told the McCaugheys, a U.S. couple who had just given birth to the world’s first surviving septuplets, their lives had been 'ruined'.

They added: 'We sincerely hope a lesson will be learned from examining how our lives were forever altered by our childhood experience.'