Oliva Dionne

Oliva Dionne was the father of the Dionne quintuplets. He was born in 1903 in Corbeil, Ontario. He had nine years of schooling, four at Corbeil and then five at Callander, where he was sent to learn English. At sixteen he left his studies to help out on the farm; there was never a thought or a question that he would do anything else.

By 1925, the year he was married, Oliva Dionne was considered the best catch in the country. He had money, the only car in the community except for the one owned by the priest, and a hay press, which he rented out by the day. The girl who caught his eye, Elzire Legros, was only sixteen when they were married in 1925.

When the depression came, the Dionnes were forced to struggle harder. Oliva Dionne found that he could no longer sell the produce of his farm or the furs of the animals he trapped each winter. Their savings kept them off relief but dwindled to almost nothing.

By 1934 , before the quintuplets were born, Oliva and Elzire already had five kids to feed. The arrival of quintuplets became a real shock to him. There was no way for him to feed 10 kids in total. Offers began pouring in once the news of the extraordinary birth had reached the public. Oliva, didn’t know what to do about it, and asked the doctor for advise. After being told to “make what you can”, because the babies probably wouldn’t survive anyway, Oliva Dionne accepted an offer to display his quintuples at the Chicago World’s Fair. This would steady the family’s income, and in fact make Oliva quite wealthy. This deal would haunt him for the coming years, as he lost his famous five due to it.

Ever since the quints were taken out of his care, Oliva struggled for 7 years to regain custody. He was always made fun of in the media during those years, and was made to look like a complete idiot. He opened his own booth at “quintland”, where he signed pictures of the girls to make extra money.

On February 1, 1942, the five quintuplets went along with their father and mother to break ground for a new home. This was the year of the big family reunion. Oliva Dionne had finally won. But instead of letting the quints lead normal lives, Oliva continued to keep them in the spotlight for as long as he possibly could.

In the 60’s, the four surviving quintuplets told everything from their point of view, by writing the book “We were Five”. The book is harsh in its assessment of the Dionne parents but the truth is that the quintuplets’ own feelings –especially towards their father- were even harsher at the time it was written. Through the eyes of Yvonne, Annette, Cecile and Marie, Oliva Dionne appears as a distant and unloving man. They said he impossible to grow close to, embittered by the events of a decade, suspisious of strangers and acquaintances, and hungry to assert his total control over his daughters, whom he rarely if ever praised..

Oliva Dionne died in 1979, at the age of 76. He had been in poor health for a while, but died suddenly in hospital due to a heart attack. He hadn’t seen any of the surviving quintuplets for 10 years. They did, however, attend his funeral.