“I prefer to remain a child in the woods and unattached. Nature means so much to me.”
605: Émilie Dionne
The Fourth of Five of the First Set of Quintuplets Known to Survive Infancy
Born: 28 May 1934, Callander, Ontario, Canada
Died: 6 August 1954, Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Laurentides Region, Quebec, Canada
The quints were born two months premature; their parents having no idea Mrs. Dionne was pregnant with more than one child. At the time of their birth, combined, the five girls weighed thirteen pounds six ounces (though soon after they began to lose weight). Émilie and Marie were both born still inside their amniotic sacs, the smallest of the five.
The girls actually had six older siblings (one of whom died soon after birth) and then three younger siblings as well. The Dionne family was incredibly poor by today’s standards, and after the girls were born, Oliva and Elzire Dionne were terrified at the thought of suddenly having five more mouths to feed. The house they lived in had no electricity, which posed further challenges for charities and medical workers trying to bring in incubators to keep the girls alive. After their story made international headlines, the Red Cross sent in round-the-clock nursing care and breast milk was shipped in far and wide for the girls.
After four months with their parents, the girls were taken away by the Canadian government to become wards of the state. The government did this by passing the Dionne Quintuplets Guardianship Act of 1935. Unlike normal interference between government and private families today though, the quints were not given to foster families. Instead, they were simply moved to a new facility right across the street from their parents’ home.
The Ontario government turned a profit on the quints by making the girls a tourist attraction in a place called “Quintland” (where 6,000 people a day could observe them from galleries placed around the complex the girls were raised in. In fact, by 1937, Quintland was more popular than Niagara Falls). Quintland, as previously mentioned, was built very close to the Dionne home. The quints were raised by nurses, with their every wish and whim catered to them. The world was terrified that one of the girls would die, and so they received around the clock care. The girls also received a few visits with their birth family, but to say tension and pain erupted between the Dionne quintuplets and their parents and siblings during this time would be an understatement.
If Quintland wasn’t enough, the quints also ended up starring in three Hollywood films about a fictionalized version of their lives. They even appeared in numerous advertisements for brand names you would recognize today. The quints were famous worldwide, while their parents and siblings were scrutinized for every little thing.
The sisters rarely left Quintland; but one of the times they were allowed out, they met the King and Queen of the United Kingdom in Toronto. For that trip, the rest of the Dionne Family was also invited along, but the quints remained the stars of the entire show.
When the girls were nine years old, their parents regained custody of them. The girls moved back in with their parents and siblings; however, this situation wasn’t any better than living in Quintland (in fact, the quints themselves stated it was absolutely worse). When the quints returned home, one of their older sisters reportedly told them the reason there were two tables in the dining room was because one was for the quints and one was for the rest of the Dionnes; they were two separate families living in one home. The new nineteen-bedroom mansion the Dionne’s all lived in together was paid for by the quints’ trust fund (see more information below).
Soon after, the quints later revealed, their father also began to abuse them in various ways, including sexually assaulting them. Also, their mother screamed at and hit them at various times. The girls couldn’t escape from everything fast enough. Unbeknownst to them, each girl had a trust fund set up with money from the Quintland attraction. They would not be able to access these funds until their twenty-first birthday and had no idea they even existed when Émilie passed away at the age of twenty. Unfortunately, by the time they learned of the trust funds, most of the money was already gone. The money had paid for everything to keep Quintland up and running, from the construction of public bathrooms for the tourists to the meals doctors ate when coming to observe the girls.
After the quints moved back in with their parents, Quintland was turned into a private Catholic school for the quints and some other girls to attend. It was while attending this school that Annette told the chaplain of the school about her father abusing her, but the chaplain did nothing.
Also, around this time, Émilie started to suffer from seizures, which their parents and doctors covered up for fear of the stigma of epilepsy at the time. When they were fourteen, a newspaper chose to publish how much each girl weighed, proving that while media attention was slowly going away, it was still very prevalent in the girls’ lives.
Eventually, the girls all escaped their hellish homelife, and went on to write their own stories. When they were nineteen, Marie and Émilie were the first to escape, by joining different convents. When Émilie died two months later, media attention in the quintuplets dried up; after all, they were no longer quintuplets, but instead four sisters. As devastating as Émilie’s death was, it gave the others a chance to finally escape once and for all.
Enough about all the quints in general, let’s talk about Émilie.
She was the only of the five to be left-handed.
Émilie devoted her brief life to becoming a nun, joining L’Hospice de L’Accueil Gai or The Warm Welcome Hospice. This particular convent was very small, several nuns caring for old priests in a nursing-home like setting.
Émilie died from complications of a seizure. In the day leading up to the final attack Émilie suffered five other seizures. Finally, after laying down for a nap, Émilie’s body seized a final time. She vomited in her sleep, and unable to clear her airway herself, Émilie suffocated to death.
After her death, her surviving sisters were forced to pose for one final photograph, gathered around Émilie’s open casket. Five thousand people came to view her body in their home that day, and at the gravesite, mourners stole every single flower from the grave. They even plucked at the remaining grass, unperturbed by the priest performing the service chastising them for their cold-heartedness.
Émilie’s trust fund, valued at $170,000 at the time of her death, was split fourteen ways: between her parents and twelve surviving siblings, meaning the other quints each inherited $12,000 as a final gift from their sister.
Find a Grave Marked
Located In My Personal Library:
The Miracle and Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets by Sarah Miller
The Miracle and Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets by Sarah Miller