City council in North Bay, Ont., voted Tuesday night to adopt a committee’s recommendation and keep the home where the Dionne quintuplets were born and its contents in the city but move them 2.1 kilometres away to a waterfront area.
Councillor Chris Mayne said the vote was 7-3 in favour of a recommendation from a special review committee created earlier this year amid public outcry over a proposal to move the home to a nearby community and hand over its contents to museums and universities.
Among the proposal’s vocal opponents were the two surviving quintuplets, Cecile and Annette Dionne, who wrote a letter to councillors suggesting there is a “moral obligation” to safeguard the home as a part of Canadian history.
The 82-year-old sisters, who now live in Montreal, said their story put the city of roughly 54,000 in the global spotlight and serves as a reminder of “how society and politicians sometimes bend the rules.”
The quintuplets were born in 1934 â€” the first quintuplets to survive more than a few days.
The Ontario government took them from their parents and placed them in a special hospital where they spent the first nine years of their lives, and where they served as a tourist attraction that poured roughly $500 million into provincial coffers.
The quintuplets’ birth home was bought by the city of North Bay and brought there from the nearby community of Corbeil, Ont., in 1985, then turned into a museum dedicated to the family’s story.
The Dionne Museum has been closed to the public since the city’s chamber of commerce ceased to run it in 2015, throwing its future in limbo.
The city said it couldn’t afford to maintain the facility and couldn’t find anyone to take it over. It also sought to sell the property the home stood on for development.
Officials said at the time that moving the building to another part of town would be too expensive and would still leave the museum unmanned. They suggested bringing the home to an agricultural society in the community of Strong, Ont., to be included in its efforts to create a so-called pioneer village.
But the newly formed special review committee has now suggested relocating the home within North Bay.
It recommends using proceeds from the sale of the land the home is on to finance the move, foundation preparation and basic landscaping, which the committee’s report estimates would cost between roughly $112,000 and $146,000.
The committee also proposes that the city work with the Friends of the Dionne Home community group to establish an operating agreement for the home, with the goal of incorporating it as a not-for-profit organization.
Mayne told The Canadian Press that the house has to be moved from its current location by May 31.
“The goal is to have a new foundation ready for the home by then, but there are concerns as to how quickly the city can start construction,” he said.
“There’s still snow up here, there’s still frost in the ground, but hopefully in the next four to six weeks, they can start the foundation, construct it and then approaching June 1, physically lift the house, move it on trucks, move it through the city, around wires and all those things.”
Mayne said the city’s waterfront area already has an existing museum and “this will be a significant addition to the heritage of the area.”
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press