Maine family donates stunning Dionne Quints collection to Callander’s museum

·4 min read

Editor's Note: Pub. Sept 18, corrected Sept. 21 to change Madame Alexandra to Madame ALEXANDER

The Callander museum’s Dionne quintuplets’ catalogue has just received an immense boost thanks to a large donation of memorabilia from the Fraser family.

Nancy Fraser’s mother in-law Doris Fraser was a serious and passionate collector of all things relating to the Dionne quintuplets. The family, who call Maine home, even made the trek to Callander’s museum in 2001 to see the displays for themselves.

Sadly, Doris recently passed away at the age of 97, and her family reached out to the museum and offered the collection.

Curator Natasha Wiatr was in disbelief after receiving the news. “This is the most significant donation we have received to date,” she said, and “in terms of volume, it’s probably the biggest.”

Five large bins full of memorabilia were donated, and the Fraser’s made it easy on the delivery front as they had a friend heading to the Barrie area. Wiatr and fellow museum staffer Troy Van Horn hopped in the truck—“my car wasn’t big enough”—and met the fellow en route for the pick up.

Once they returned to the museum, anticipation filled the halls. “It was like Christmas opening them up,” Wiatr said.

And although the moment was joyous, Wiatr also acknowledged the emotions involved with receiving a donation of this sort.

“While there’s very much an excitement for us, we also recognize that Doris, from everything that I’ve heard from Nancy, was just such a wonderful lady,” and Wiatr is honoured to help preserve that legacy.

“We’re going to preserve and display and research this collection so that hopefully she can know that all of the work she did—I don’t even know over how many decades—is now going to be helping to tell the story to new generations.”

“These objects are what help us to bring the story to life.”

The museum’s Dionne collection is already impressive, thanks in part to major donations from Francis Dafoe and others.

With the donation of these five totes, Wiatr is viewing things she’s never seen before. “The more stuff we pull out, the reaction is ‘oh wow,’ it’s consistently surprising.”

There are games, print memorabilia, pictures, and perhaps the biggest find for Wiatr is an original collection of Madame Alexander dolls.

Madame Alexander remains “one of the most famous doll companies in the world,” and they were granted an exclusive licence to create Dionne dolls for market. Of course, bootlegs and knockoffs abound, but these dolls are the original deal, the only official Dionne dolls available at that time.

Rare and highly sought after, a full collection can go for up to $2000.

But they are worth so much more to Wiatr. “We’ve never had an official set of them,” she said, before mentioning her friend and colleague, Carol Pretty, who “always said that was the one thing that always eluded her.”

Pretty was the museum’s curator before Wiatr. Pretty passed away a few months ago, and Wiatr wished she could have seen this collection arrive, as it was for Pretty somewhat of a Holy Grail item for the museum.

“A few months ago, we could have told her we finally got them,” Wiatr said, “there’s a sadness to it, but there’s also the feeling of we did it, don’t worry now, we have the collection.”

“Hopefully she’s looking down and seeing this.”

Indeed, the rare Dionne dolls will find a prominent place within the museum’s display. At the time of release, the dolls were so popular, they overtook sales of Madame Alexander’s Shirley Temple doll.

“Apparently Shirley Temple herself had a set of the dolls and always wanted to meet them,” Wiatr said.

To celebrate the new collection, the museum is offering the public a sneak peak into the treasures donated.

They are currently working in the art gallery, spreading out the donated items on tables as they catalogue and document each item. The public is welcome to stop by and take in the new collection until five p.m. Saturday.

Admission is free to view the new donations. However, the usual $5.50 applies to enter the museum, which is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.

“We owe so much to collectors like Doris for all of the work they did, for all of the dedication in tracking these items down,” Wiatr said.

“And now they can be preserved in our museum for generations to come.”

David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca

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