TORONTO — More than 61 years after their birth, the three surviving Dionne Quintuplets have told a television interviewer that their father sexually abused all five girls for years.
Annette, Cecile and Yvonne Dionne made the disclosure in a weekend broadcast over Radio Canada, the French-language service of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. "I think we've come to a point where we had to liberate ourselves from the past and turn the page," Annette Dionne said in the interview.
The abuse allegations also apparently are included in a forthcoming biography, "The Dionne Quintuplets: Family Secrets," written with the sisters' cooperation by Quebec novelist Jean-Yves Soucy. The two other quints, Emilie and Marie, died in 1954 and 1970, respectively.
Born in the rural, French-speaking village of Corbeil, Ontario, on May 28, 1934, the Dionnes were the first quintuplets known to have lived more than a few days. The seeming miracle of their survival--they were premature and the largest weighed just 2 1/2 pounds--was seized upon as a symbol of hope by a North American public wearied by the Great Depression.
Within days of their birth to Elzire Dionne, their father, Oliva, signed a contract with the Chicago World's Fair to publicly exhibit them in return for 23% of the profits. The local parish priest, who advised Oliva Dionne to sign on the dotted line, was to get 7%. In the resulting public outcry, the Ontario provincial government made the quints wards of the state.
The girls were placed in the care of the doctor who delivered them, Allan Roy Dafoe, and grew up in a custom-built nursery near the family home. They were paraded daily behind one-way glass for the benefit of spectators, and "Quintland" became Canada's largest tourist attraction.
Millions of dollars dropped into government coffers and the pockets of Dafoe, his staff and Oliva Dionne, who operated a souvenir stand.
The quints rejoined their family after a 9-year battle by Oliva Dionne, and the abuse began, often when their father took them for a ride in his car, the sisters told TV journalist Denise Bombardier.
When the girls complained to a Roman Catholic priest at their school, he advised them "to continue to love our parents and to wear a thick coat when we went for car rides," said Annette Dionne.
They never told their mother, "so as to not aggravate the situation," she said.
Oliva Dionne died in 1979, his widow seven years later.
The allegations of abuse were disputed Monday by the quints' six siblings.
"We assert that we had good parents and that to our knowledge our father was certainly not a sexual abuser," Therese Callahan told the North Bay, Ontario, Nugget, a local newspaper. "That's all we want to say right now because it hurts too much."
She said her statement was on behalf of two brothers and three sisters.
Pierre Berton, a leading Canadian historian, said he was aware of the abuse allegations when he wrote an earlier biography of the Dionnes. He had been told by one of the quints' husbands, but the women would not discuss it and, since the parents were still alive, the report was too libelous to include in his book.
On Monday, he said in an interview that the abuse report was "totally believable" and noted the quints' oft-expressed dislike of their father and their efforts to avoid him when they went as adults to visit their mother.