Carol Fraser spent a veritable lifetime amassing her valuable collection.
Then, the time came to pack it up and give it away.
Fraser has donated her Dionne Quintuplets memorabilia to the Dionne Heritage Museum in North Bay, Ont., not far from where the sisters were born, near Corbeil.
“I enjoyed the collection and now I hope other people will be able to enjoy it,” said Fraser, whose maiden name is Patterson. She grew up in Truro, pursued a career in nursing and currently lives in California. “My children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren weren’t interested in the collection. I could have sold it to a collector, but I thought, ‘No, this is Canada’s heritage.’ I wanted it to be in Canada.”
Her generous donation has created quite a buzz in North Bay.
“We’re excited about this,” said Ed Valenti, president of the Dionne Quints Heritage Board. “We’re about halfway through the collection and have gone through mostly dolls so far. We still have some delicate paper things to go through.
Fraser, who is 82, often saw pictures and articles about the quintuplets while she was growing up and their story captured her imagination. It wasn’t until after she moved to California, in 1965, that she started her collection.
“It was my husband who got me involved in collecting,” she said. “He gave me a set of five babies in a crib. After that I would scour antique shops and go to doll shows to find things.
“One Christmas, years ago, my mother gave me hankies with pictures of the quints on them. She said, 'It doesn’t look like much, but I paid more for them than I ever did for a dress for myself.’”
Fraser’s seven sisters also helped her discover treasures for her collection. It soon grew to more than 130 items, including eight sets of dolls. One set of Madame Alexander dolls was even made with human hair.
Some of the items in the collection increased substantially in price over the years. Fraser paid $350 for a set of six fans with pictures of the quintuplets on them. She recently saw them priced at $110 each.
Her collection also includes coins, posters, books, spoons, bowls, calendars, and magazine and newspaper articles, with an estimated value of about $14,000.
After contacting the Dionne Quints Heritage Board and learning her collection would be welcomed, Fraser carefully wrapped each item in acid-free paper and bubble wrap and sent everything to North Bay by FedEx.
This week, volunteers were busy opening parcels and cataloguing items.
“This really impacts us because we’ll be able to rotate artefacts and loan some things out on a short-term basis now," said Valenti.
“There are a lot of people with an interest in the quints, and many are younger people.”
The home the quintuplets grew up in was moved onto a site next to the Discovery North Bay Museum in 2017 and is operated, by the board, as a tourist attraction.
“It was good to know where the collection was going,” said Fraser. “I think it’s the right place for it. I took photos of the collection, so I have pictures and memories.”
The Dionne quintuplets – Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie and Marie – were born in Corbeil, Ont., near Callander, in 1934 and were the first quintuplets known to survive infancy. Annette and Cécile are still living.