Each week, Canada Today mixes The Times’s recent Canada-related coverage with back stories and analysis from our reporters, along with opinions from our readers.
During the depths of the Great Depression, the world’s attention focused on the area in and around North Bay, Ontario. In Corbeil, a village about 10 miles from the city’s downtown, five identical daughters were born to Elzire Dionne on May 28, 1934. The Dionne quintuplets then miraculously defied the odds: They not only survived, but thrived.
About three million people made the trip by train, plane and up hundreds of miles of unpaved highway to peek at them. They were media sensations, but went on to become exploited by the provincial government and lose their trust fund.
The house in which they were born eventually made its way to North Bay. But the small museum in it was closed, and the city was poised to ship the house off to a fairground in a village about 45 minutes away that had no connection to the quintuplets’ story.
I went to North Bay to meet with local politicians as well as citizens who were pushing to keep the home there. And I traveled to Montreal for a rare interview with Annette and Cécile Dionne, the last two surviving quintuplets. The result was a story that retold their unhappy history and tried to figure out why North Bay was willing to abandon a connection to an important event in its past.
One surprise from working on this story was how well Pierre Berton’s 1977 book, “The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama,” holds up as a good read. Amazingly, it’s still in print.
The birth of the Dionne quintuplets remains a vivid memory for my mother, Helen Austen, who grew up in Dauphin, Manitoba, and who will turn 90 next month. She seemed enormously impressed that I had met Annette and Cécile. Because Cécile had injured her ribs in a fall, I had to interview the two sisters in a somewhat noisy long-term care and recovery hospital across the street from Montreal’s forbidding Bordeaux jail.
Given their history with the news media, they appeared understandably wary at first. But they were soon unusually gracious and warm, and often challenged each other on their answers to my questions. Although their story is not a happy one, and they said there is much that they cannot forgive or forget, they were neither bitter nor complaining. It was a privilege to meet them.
Were the quintuplets part of your family’s lore? If so, please let us know at [email protected]
Spinoff Canadian fashion designers historically had to leave Canada if they were interested in becoming internationally known. Valeriya Safronova, however, found that this is changing, in part because of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “Canadian fashion has been working to leverage the spike in global attention the country has attracted since the election of its mediagenic young prime minister, Justin Trudeau,” she wrote. “Mr. Trudeau’s efforts on behalf of refugees, his vocal commitment to feminism and his personal style have transformed both him and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, into international celebrities. And for fashion, therein lies opportunity.”
Read: Canadian Fashion Reaches for Its Spot in the Sun
Living History: Curtis Rush visited the Air Canada Center to profile a group of ushers who are so old that some started the job when the Toronto Maple Leafs were still winners. “They are the grand old ushers who are believed to be the longest-tenured staff in the N.H.L.,” Mr. Rush wrote. “Still working for the Toronto Maple Leafs well into their late 70s, they could be reclassified as walking monuments.”
Read: 3 Maple Leaf Ushers Have 139 Years of N.H.L. Memories
Here are some other articles from The Times over the last week, not necessarily related to Canada and perhaps overlooked, that I found interesting:
— While society tends to think that creativity fades with age, the opposite might be true.
— Dyson, the British company known for its vacuum cleaners, defies the common wisdom of the 21st century that it’s impossible to make money with hardware.
— Ford thinks that a symbol of rural Canada, the F-150 pickup truck, might be just the thing for China.
— Barney, the purple dinosaur who has delighted many children and irritated just as many parents, has turned 25. Neil Genzlinger, a Times television critic, confesses that he played a role in its creation.