“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home.
One of the most famous houses in northern Ontario, and perhaps in the entire province and country, is a little two-story home that was built in Corbeil. It was later displayed at the Pinewood Park Hotel, then transported to a section off Highway 11 entering North Bay, and moved again to rest across from Marina Point just off of Oak Street.
The home that was the birthplace of the Dionne Quintuplets is a historic artifact that has both united and divided people in town, and throughout the world over the years.
Some saw it as a place that went against human rights.
It was where the world's first surviving quintuplet children were taken from their parents and used as a tourist attraction. To others, including the surviving sisters, it is a site that shows something more positive. A place where five identical girls grew up together and brought a sense of belonging to the whole region; putting Nipissing on the map.
No matter what side of the fence you’re on regarding whether it should have stayed in North Bay, the fact of the matter is, it has deep roots engrained within this city and that’s why there was such a fight for it to remain in the Gateway City after the land off Highway 11 was sold by the City.
The history of the girls has been well documented over the eight decades since their birth. But this story looks at the process it took to keep that home here and why it was an important investment of time and energy for everyone involved, and in particular from the viewpoint chair of the Dionne Quints Heritage Board Ed Valenti.
“Back in the fall of 2016 the city was advocating for it to be taken over by someone here, or it would’ve been moved to Strong Township (Sundridge) and no one in North Bay stepped up,” says Valenti.
“Eventually the proposal from Strong Township came forward and that seemed to be where the home was going to be located. Jeff Fournier stepped in and formed the association ‘The Friends of the Dionne Quints Museum’ and we made a public presentation to council.”
That’s where Valenti became part of the effort spearheaded by Jeff, to showcase the reasons for the city to be fully behind keeping the home in North Bay.
“I just felt that it would be crazy if we got rid of something that was symbolic to North Bay and the surrounding area,” he says.
“The home shows how far this region has come and gone. It changed our landscape and I thought it would be disappointing to be given away.”
Valenti says he never saw himself getting as involved as he did.
“Jeff (Fournier) had indicated that his goal was just to keep the home here and once that was done he wanted to take a step back, so I put my name forward to run the association,” says Valenti.
“I didn’t really know a lot about museums and my knowledge about the Quints was limited and that has certainly changed over time, but I kind of just walked in the door and boom I was there, but yeah we’ve come a long way since then.”
Once the interest was noted and taken seriously, the real work began, as the deal was the home could stay in North Bay if the user group could raise enough funds to pay for a move.
“We did a bunch of fundraisers,” says Valenti.
“But what really helped top it all off was in March of 2017, just before the city made the official decision in April, we did a really big event at the Davedi Club which raised $8,000. I think that really gave us some strength behind the proposal to keep the home here.”
They also had to figure out exactly where the home was going to go. Valenti says, “We originally wanted to be right next to the Museum, but the board there didn’t want to be too close. But the North Bay Society of Architects actually reached out and said they thought it should be closer to Marina Point and we can tie it all in and it would have more of a prominence at its location there.”
He adds, “That also helped make the follow-up presentation to the city a bit easier because you have this group of architects behind you and then you also get Heritage North Bay on board, then away we went.”
The group got the city’s official ok to allow the home to stay in North Bay and the location off Oak Street behind the North Bay Museum was chosen as the new site. Then it was time to actually relocate the home, and that in itself seemed like one of those “I’ll believe it when I see it,” processes.
“Originally we were supposed to move the home in June or July of 2017. Then we started to get a little nervous. August went by, then September and October rolled along finally we got a moving date in November but it snowed for about a full week before we moved the home,” recalls Valenti.
“It would’ve been nice to have done it in nicer weather, but certainly made it a unique experience.”
On the morning of Sunday, November 19th, 2017 before the sun had even come up, the home was lifted into two halves onto the back of a pair of flatbeds, one carrying the roof while the other was loaded with the bottom half of the home. It made its way down several windy, snowy side streets in North Bay before being driven up (the wrong way) down the one way stretch of Oak Street and into the public parking lot, adjacent to the Museum before being reassembled and settled into its new permanent spot.
Valenti recalls that convoy of the flatbeds, the police cruisers that were followed by several media outlets vehicles, and the vehicles of some North Bay dignitaries. It was a sight to behold as you don’t see a piece of history that big being moved every day.
“I stayed with the roof of the home and it was pretty neat to be able to reach out and touch the roof while you’re walking along beside it,” says Valenti.
“We had Hydro on hand to make sure we could safely get past any overhead wirings and I remember talking to the owner of the moving company and I asked if he was nervous. He said, ‘not really this is one of the smallest home I’ve had to move.’ But as the media got involved and every single one of his moves was photographed or recorded, he pointed out he had never had so much attention on one of his moves.”
With the move done and an opening date set, Valenti says he was able to take a step back and reflect on some of the things that made this whole process so worthwhile to him personally.
“What has really hit home with me is that it's not so much just about the fact that five girls were born in this home, it’s the people that were involved. The lives that were affected,” he says.
Valenti adds, “Over time you start to realize how inaccurate a lot of the stories have been about the girls and the family. That became an eye-opener as well and as a board we are trying to correct some of those errors. For instance if I was a resident of Corbeil, I would be upset that they aren’t consistently mentioned as being born in Corbeil.
"Also, a lot of attention has always been given to Dr. Defoe for performing the births of the children, but now we know he didn’t show up until after the first two children had already been born. Those kinds of things are a little fuzzy in their history, but again those are things that we’d like to correct.”
Valenti says the Quints didn’t just have a huge impact on people around the region but many Americans were enamoured with them as well.
“Especially in the south, its amazing to see the Facebook sites. You just google them and there are so many pictures of reels of film that were taken of them by people who reside down there.”
Valenti says he’s proud of the work the board and many members of the community have done to preserve such an important piece of history and is looking forward to a second year of operating the museum from its new location.
If you have a story suggestion for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at email@example.com