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1930s & Earlier / Dionne Quintuplets
The Great Depression did not produce many happy stories, but the birth of the Dionne quintuplets near remote Callander, Ontario, Canada in 1934 was at least outwardly a feel-good news item of the decade. Five identical girls were born to Elzire Dionne on May 28, 1934. They were attended to by a country doctor, Roy Allan Dafoe. Never before had quintuplets survived infancy. The story turned sour when the quints were made wards of the Ontario government because of the financial straits of the Dionne family and other concerns. The provincial government built Quintland, a tourist attraction where the girls were put on public display for the numerous visitors who travelled the Trans-Canada Highway to northern Ontario to see them. Quintland served as a home for the girls who were cared for by nurses, as well as a museum and viewing area for the tourists. Eventually some three million tourists came to Quintland--as many as 6,000 each day at its peak. (There was no admission charge to see the quints, but the region reaped millions of dollars in revenues from hotels, restaurants, etc.) At one point, the quints were Canada's top tourist attraction, surpassing Niagara Falls. The quints were isolated from the outside world and even from their parents and other siblings. The Dionne parents staged years of legal challenges to regain custody of their estranged daughters. They finally succeeded in 1943. The three surviving quints were awarded a large cash settlement in the late 1990s by the Ontario government. Only two of the girls survive today.