The Quintland Sisters: A Novel

Written by Shelley Wood
Review by Janice Ottersberg

In 1934 Ontario, the world’s first identical quintuplets were born to Oliva and Elzire Dionne, a poor French-Canadian farming family. These five tiny girls weighed in at a total of 13 lbs., 6 oz. The eyes of the world watched as the Quints struggled hourly then daily to survive. Dr. Dafoe became famous for his role in delivering the girls and was lauded for their survival. For four months, these miracle babies were cared for by a team of nurses and caregivers in the small farmhouse without electricity and running water. Generators, incubators, and supplies were donated for the babies. Dr. Dafoe took over control of the Quints and isolated them from the outside world. He built a special hospital nearby that provided electricity, water, and sanitary conditions, as well as administrative offices and housing for the nurses and caregivers. The parents and five older siblings remained in the old farmhouse, separated from the Quints. The parents were not allowed access to the girls, and battles over guardianship ensued.

Shelley Wood tells the Quints’ story through the diary entries and letters of Emma, a fictional midwife, who stays on as a caregiver for their first five years. She also incorporates actual newspaper articles, revealing the tragic details of legal battles over guardianship, lucrative endorsements, and photo copyrights between the parents, Dr. Dafoe, corporations, and the Ontario government, who took custody of the girls. Hundreds of journalists and photographers descend on the small community while Dr. Dafoe places the Quints on display for the viewing pleasure of tens of thousands of tourists. This creates an economic boom for the area during the Great Depression while making the doctor a rich man. This captivating read reveals the greed and exploitation that worldwide fame can create, profoundly affecting the innocent lives of these children. I highly recommend this memorable novel.