Multiple births have always carried a special aura and mystique and brought delight to those who have been so blessed. The people of Sooke shared in the awe and wonder that the rest of the western world experienced on hearing the news of the birth of five baby girls in Corbeil, Ontario on May 28, 1934.
Eighty years have passed since the startling news struck the world that Elzire, young wife of Oliva Dionne, had given birth prematurely to a succession of tiny babies, with the assistance of Dr. Daniel Dafoe and two midwives. The delicate infants were wrapped in blankets and placed together in a basket on the open oven door of the woodstove in the sparsely furnished kitchen.
Long before television, the news spread by newspapers and magazines and by radio, as announcers and newsmen flocked to the little Ontario village, eager to participate in this fascinating event, as the world held its breath, anxious for the survival of the babies. They were named Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie and Marie Dionne.
Before long, the Ontario government had stepped in; the children were made wards of the Crown and were on show as an attraction that brought millions of dollars to the economy of the province. While Dr. Dafoe was credited with saving their lives, line-ups of 6,000 people a day made the trek to the out of the way village near Callander.
Naturally, tensions arose because of the separation from their family and the exploitation that took place, and it is probably safe to say that the lives of the Dionne quintuplets may not have been very happy. According to last reports, Annette and Cecile are still living today and able to celebrate their 80th birthday.
While Sooke has not experienced multiple births of this nature, many of our local families have been blessed with the happiness brought by twins. Prominent among the twins in our history were the sons of George and Mable Jones, the “Bubbas” Stan and Len, born in 1925. Twin boys, Ronald and Russell, were born to Margaret and Percy Clark of Shirley.
Dagne and Sverre Hansen of Harbourview Road raised twins Norman and Arnold and they’re both still with us. Bruce Butler reminds us that his dad Wally and uncle Claude were twins, and were born prematurely in 1911 at the family home at Tod Inlet. Family lore recounts how the baby boys were wrapped and placed in bread pans in the open oven of the woodstove in the Butler kitchen. Lions of industry that the Butler brothers became, this was their beginning, Warm kitchens and woodstoves have been indispensable in our history.
Sooke Region Museum