A Midland Man’s Close Friendship with the Parents of the World-Famous Quintuplets
By Tom Lowrey, Senior Services Education Assistant
On a summer afternoon sixty years ago, Floyd Andrick walked into the family farmhouse near Hope to find his mother at the dining table sorting through a box of memorabilia that she had collected. Among the items was a picture of five identical little girls. Floyd asked his mother, “Who are those girls?” His mother explained who the Dionne Quintuplets were, and then his grandmother shared that he was distantly related to the nurse who cared for the five tiny babies.
A few weeks later on August 6, 1954, which was Floyd’s seventh birthday, he recalled hearing the news bulletin that one of the 20 year old quintuplets (Émilie) had died. That news was the topic of conversation for a few days in the Andrick farmhouse.
The five identical baby girls were born in 1934 to Oliva and Elzire Dionne during the Great Depression and were the first quintuplets to survive birth. The babies became instant celebrities and were a symbol of hope to a struggling Canada. The government of Ontario soon realized that the quints were a potential gold mine. A special hospital was quickly built across the roadway from the Dionne farmhouse and the babies were moved there at age 4 months. They were made wards of Ontario and were taken from their parents “for health reasons.” The parents were allowed occasional “visiting privileges,” but were not even allowed to hold their famous babies.
During the next few years, more than three million people traveled to what became known as Quintland to view the five identical girls in a zoo-like observatory. The attraction brought in tens of millions of dollars to the province of Ontario, and surpassed Niagara Falls as a tourist destination.
Finally, after a long legal battle with the government of Ontario, Oliva and Elzire regained custody of the quintuplets in 1943. Unfortunately, the 9 year old girls never had the opportunity to bond with their parents or siblings. The quints had been raised as royalty and resented having to do household chores. At age 18 they moved away to Montreal and eventually rejected their family.
In 1963, when Floyd was sixteen, the quintuplets published their story entitled “We Were Five” in McCalls Magazine. Floyd was shocked by the very negative things the girls wrote about their parents. “I thought, there was something not right about all this…how could all this be true? I didn’t know the family, but wondered why these girls would publicly ridicule their parents.” Oliva and Elzire Dionne said, “We weren’t the best parents in the world, but we did the very best that we could under very trying circumstances.”
So…Floyd wrote a sympathetic letter to Mr. and Mrs. Dionne, expressing his feeling that the quints should have been more understanding of their parents’ plight when the girls were born and the difficulties faced during subsequent years.
In June of 1966, after completing studies at Delta College, Floyd and a friend felt they needed a vacation. The two drove to Callander, Ontario, about 210 miles north of Toronto, to see “where all this happened.” They received directions from the surviving midwife to the quints, who was still running a souvenir shop in the village. Stopping in front of the then vacated Dionne mansion to take pictures of what remained of Quintland, Floyd heard a door close. He looked up the driveway toward the huge home and recognized Oliva Dionne. Mr. Dionne approached Floyd and said hello, then asked, “What brought you here?” Floyd mentioned the letter that he had written 3 years before, and that he was related to nurse LeRoux who had taken care of the quints from the day of their birth. Oliva remembered the letter and was impressed that an 18 year old would drive all the way to Callander, Ontario from Michigan. Following a short conversation between the two men, Oliva invited Floyd next door to meet Mrs. Dionne.
That meeting was the beginning of a long friendship with the Dionne parents. Floyd visited with them many times over the following years, staying in their home and spending many hours hearing their side of the story. He has maintained friendships with the siblings of the quints following the parents’ deaths.
“Elzire and Oliva Dionne were two of the kindest and most humble people that I ever met,” Floyd stated. Sadly, they were hounded by reporters and promoters for years and portrayed as country bumpkins in several movies. They were even disgraced in print by their quintuplets. The other Dionne children strongly denounced the claims and allegations made by the quints as totally ridiculous.
Shortly before Oliva Dionne died in 1979, he said to Floyd, “Someday when Elzire and I are gone, you can tell our side of the story.” Floyd promised that he would do what he could to set the record straight, and he is keeping that promise. Even though reams have been written about the Dionnes, Floyd knows a great deal that others do not know of this incredible story. At present, he is assisting a Canadian author with a new book on the quintuplets, their siblings and parents.