The two surviving Dionne quintuplets are urging officials in northeastern Ontario to preserve the home where they were born, suggesting there is a “moral obligation” to safeguard a part of Canadian history.
In a letter to North Bay city council earlier this week, Cecile and Annette Dionne spoke out against a proposal that would see the home moved to a nearby community and the related artifacts handed over to museums or universities.
The 82-year-old sisters, who now live in Montreal, say their story brought the eyes of the world on the region and deserves to be preserved for future generations.
The quintuplets were born in 1934 – 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, where they served as a tourist attraction that poured roughly $500 million into provincial coffers.
The sisters say that if the city truly cannot afford to maintain the Dionne Museum, as it is known, then it should transfer the home and its contents to the Canadian History Museum in Gatineau, Que.
The Dionne Museum has been closed to the public since 2015 and its fate has been in limbo almost as long.
The city later announced it wanted to sell the property for development and find someone to take over the museum, saying simply moving the building to another part of town would be too costly.
A proposal before council would bring the home to a historical society in the community of Strong, Ont., to be included in its efforts to create a so-called pioneer village. But vote on the matter has faced numerous delays.
The Dionne sisters say transferring the home to Strong would sever it from its roots.
“The Dionne Museum is our museum, but foremost it is your museum, it is the museum of your parents and grandparents and the museum of your children and grandchildren. It first serves as a reminder of how fascinating, complex, and fragile childhood is,” they said in their letter, which was read to council by a friend.
“Secondly it speaks about the concept of multiple births, once thought of as miraculous. It is also about how society and politicians sometimes bend the rules, still a very actual topic when we read the daily news,” they said.
“It may be one day forgotten that the Dionne quintuplets lived the first nine years of their lives separated from their parents and exhibited twice daily, weather permitting. That millions of tourists travelled great distances to what was then the backwoods of Northern Ontario to witness this firsthand. This museum traces the story never to be forgotten of how human beings were treated because they were different.”
– Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press