There are currently less than 800 quintuplets in the entire world. Quintuplets or multiples of five were extremely rare in the history of the world, especially before the 1960s. What does this have to do with jewelry? Well, I recently came across a Dionne quintuplet souvenir charm bracelet and decided to learn more about the quints.
The Dionne quintuplets were born during the Great Depression from a single egg in 1934 in Ontario, Canada to Elzire Dionne. The quintuplets were five girls named: Annette, Cecile, Yvonne, Marie and Emilie. Their parents were ecstatic and the girls were soon deemed by the public as “miracle babies” because they were the first quintuplets to survive infancy.
Although being “miracle babies” would seem like a wonderful thing, these girls had a tragic upbringing. Because of the miraculous nature of their birth, the Canadian government actually took the quintuplets and placed them in a hospital making the girls wards of the state. The girls were a modern marvel and represented excess and good fortune during the Great Depression when there was nothing positive or joyful to look at.
As the quints grew older, the government turned their hospital home into an amusement park of sorts giving it the name “Quintland”. The girls had over 3,000 visitors each day that would visit at three different times throughout the day. “Quintland” hosted a total of an estimated three million tourists from 1934-1943. It became the biggest attraction in Canada, even beating out Niagara Falls. Not only did tourists pay to see the girls, but they also had the opportunity to buy a plethora of memorabilia including dolls, spoons, plates, and jewelry. The Dionne quintuplet souvenirs were even more popular then Shirley Temple memorabilia. It was estimated that the Canadian government and local businesses made over 1 billion dollars from “Quintland” and the girls never saw one dime of the money.
Although in the eyes of the public the girls looked happy and healthy, the quintuplets were in reality very unhappy with their childhood. Their parents were discouraged from seeing them and the public was allowed to view them up to three times a day. The girls did not get to enjoy many normal childhood activities because they were constantly being put on display. "It wasn’t human," Cecile Dionne told The (London) Independent in a 1995 interview. "It was a circus."
Scared and alone, the girls were finally reunited with their parents after a nine year custody battle with the government. The quintuplets lived with their parents until age eighteen when they broke off all contact with their family. Today, the surviving sisters are negotiating with Ontario’s government for their share of the profits made from “Quintland”. Although the quintuplets had a tragic childhood, their story and existence is still a miracle that the world will remember for years to come, especially for those that purchased a souvenir such as this charm bracelet.
Sandy Compton of Uniquely Yours