A yearlong grassroots campaign to keep the birth home of the Dionne quintuplets in a northeastern Ontario city will come to fruition this weekend as the house-turned-museum is uprooted and transported to another location in the community — the second move for the historic log cabin.
The home, whose fate had been in limbo since it closed to the public two years ago, is set to be hauled from its current spot by the highway in North Bay, Ont., to a waterfront park in the city on Sunday.
A spokesman for the two surviving quintuplets, Cecile and Annette Dionne, says the women are proud that a key monument of their childhood — and of Canadian history — is being preserved.
Carlo Tarini says the 83-year-old sisters, who live in Montreal, are grateful to those who rallied to save the home and its legacy.
A proposal to have the log cabin moved to a nearby community and the related artifacts handed over to museums or universities sparked public outcry last fall, with the sisters among those opposing the plan.
City officials decided in April to sell the land the home is on and use the money, an estimated $150,000, to move the building roughly two kilometres downtown.
But though the home’s whereabouts are now secure, its future remains up in the air. No date has been set for its reopening, and the Dionne sisters have urged governments to ensure consistent funding for its operation.
“This is a story about survival,” Tarini said of the quintuplets’ historic birth in 1934 and their childhood as unwitting international stars. The sisters were the first quintuplets to survive more than a few days.
“The survival of the museum was significant and that museum is not only a historical landmark for North Bay but it certainly is one of Canada’s most historical landmarks,” he said.
The identical sisters were born on May 28, 1934, near the village of Corbeil, Ont., just south of North Bay.
The Ontario government took the quints from their parents and placed them in a special hospital in the community where they spent the first nine years of their lives, turning them into a tourist attraction that spurred the local economy and generated roughly $500 million in income for the province.
“When they were born … North Bay was just a fishing and hunting lodge. And today there’s a four-lane highway that gets you there, and that highway was built specifically so that tourists could come down and visit the sisters.”
For those of a certain generation, the quints’ birth was a beacon of hope amid dire times, Tarini said. But their tale — one of childhood exploitation — is equally relevant today and should be preserved for future generations, he said.
“It’s a story that needs to be told and retold,” he said. “You can’t read the paper or take in the news at any time without seeing how some children are treated. This tells you that children need to be protected from any type of abuse, whether it be parental abuse, government abuse, institutional abuse, and they should be kept away from exploitation.”
The quints’ birth home was bought by the city of North Bay and brought there from Corbeil in 1985, and then turned into a museum dedicated to the family’s story.
The Dionne Museum closed to the public in 2015 after the city’s chamber of commerce stopped running it, and the resulting struggle to find a replacement to operate the home prompted officials to suggest moving it to the nearby community of Strong, Ont.
A group of residents rallied against the proposal, lobbying city council for months until the idea was voted down in favour of moving the home locally.
Jeff Fournier, who spearheaded the community effort and is now on the Dionne Quints Heritage Board, said he dedicated close to 2,000 hours to the campaign over the last year.
“The reason I fought so hard from the very beginning … was I felt this is a great asset to the city, it is the biggest event that’s really occurred in the area ever,” Fournier said.
The cabin is set to be split into sections Thursday and hoisted onto transport trucks Friday, according to the board. The move itself, scheduled for early Sunday, will likely draw an audience, said Fournier, who plans to be among them.
Seeing a year’s work bear results will stir some emotions and feel “extremely satisfying,” he said.
“This is now the moment that we’ve been waiting for,” he said.
North Bay’s mayor, Al McDonald, said the last year has shown that the quints, their story and their home are still close to the heart of many in the community.
Though some residents thought the move was too expensive, and some have expressed concerns about the new location, overall the process has been “democracy at its finest,” McDonald said.
“It’s the items that are really important to citizens where they’ll come out (and get engaged politically),” he said. “I wish they would get engaged even more.”
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press