Is the phrase “the Dionne Quintuplets” still part of the popular culture? It is for me; the girls were born in 1934, and I in 1945. The birth of five healthy if fragile infants to an Ontario, Canada couple of modest means was a one-in-a billion event. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone that making a spectacle of the girls, having the government take over their care and then exhibiting them like freaks, was a travesty.
They haven’t had happy lives. A lot of people made money from the fact of their existence, but not much flowed back to the sisters. Two are still alive, Cecile and Annette, age 83. When they finally did get a payment in the low millions of dollars from the Canadian government in recompense for their exploitation, Cecile’s son stole her share and vanished.
Now the simple house in which they were born is being sold off. No one wants to maintain it as a monument to the Quintuplets any more, which seems to matter to them. I’m not sure what’s fair here. These are two frail, elderly, desperately poor women. Their payment from the Canadian government seems largely gone, through theft and mismanagement. The government took over their care when they were young; it doesn’t seem as if that can happen again, just for the optics. Could there be a small pension, just to keep desperation away and allow the aging sisters to live together? The Canadian government probably doesn’t owe them any more, but it might be the decent thing to do.