NORTH BAY, Ontario -- Close family members, including three of her five most famous offspring, held a brief private funeral mass for Elzire Dionne, the mother of the first known quintuplets to survive beyond infancy.
Dionne, 77, died Saturday of natural causes at North Bay Civic Hospital.Several of her children -- but none of the three surviving quintuplets -- were by her bedside when she died.
The Rev. Basil Tanguay, a local parish priest, conducted a mass Sunday at the funeral home chapel in North Bay, 175 miles north of Toronto. Cecile, Annette and Yvonne -- the three quintuplets -- as well as seven other children and other close relatives were the only ones present.
Maurice McGuinty, a longtime family friend and undertaker in charge of funeral arrangements, said Dionne would be buried in a private ceremony today or Tuesday.
The three surviving quintuplets, who live in St. Bruno, Quebec, just outside Montreal, made the last of their infrequent visits to their mother three weeks ago.
'They find the publicity hard,' McGuinty said of the Dionne family. 'I know the world wants to know about them but I want them to have the privacy that they wish.'
Unwanted publicity has plagued the Dionne quintuplets since they were born on May 28, 1934, in a log cabin with no running water or electricity in the northern Ontario town of Corbeil.
Hordes of journalists descended on the town. Doctors called it 'an act of God.' The five babies weighed a total of 13 pounds, 6 ounces. Their chances of survival at the time were said to be 1 in 57 million.
They survived, but less than 48 hours after their births, their father signed a contract to exhibit them for one week at the Chicago World's Fair.
The Ontario government accused the quintuplets' father of exploitation and made the five babies wards of the Crown.
The government built a hospital-nursery across the road from the cabin where they were born. More than 5 million visitors filed through the nursery to catch a glimpse of the remarkable sisters during the first 10 years of their lives, earning the government more than $5 million.
Oliva and Elzire Dionne were allowed to visit their daughters but had no say in their upbringing. Oliva Dionne took the government to court and won back custody in 1943, but the damage already had been done.
'It (the court battle) was a sad thing,' said Mort Fellman, a retired journalist and a close family friend. 'It tore (Mrs. Dionne) apart. The government's intention to protect the girls' security and health was admirable. It just didn't work for anybody.'
All the quintuplets moved away from home when they turned 18.
One of the quintuplets, Emilie, died of an epileptic seizure at the age of 20 in 1954. Another identical sister, Marie, died of a blood clot in 1970.
Their father died in 1979.