Edouard Beaupré was born on January 9, 1881 in the tiny Saskatchewan parish of Willow Bunch. He was the first child to be baptized in Willow Bunch, and he would become its most famous son.
The eldest of 20 children, Edouard was the only sibling to display abnormal size. Although he born in perfect proportion, by the age of 17 Edouard stood over 7 feet tall and he showed no signs of stopping. His dramatic and uncontrolled growth caused excruciating pain but by all reports he was touted as a man of gentle nature and quiet spirit – despite his monstrous appearance. In his youth Edouard, was known to be a fine horseman and he dreamt of life as a cowboy but after being disfigured from a horse kick to the face, and at the urging of friends and family, he began exhibiting himself in order to support his family. Under the guidance of a Métis status promoter, André Gaudry, Edouard Beaupré toured Canada and eventually much of the United States.
Unlike many giants, who were often frail and sickly, Edouard was robust and possessed incredible strength. Rather than simply exhibit himself as a giant freak of nature the giant Edouard Beaupré instead promoted himself as a strongman without equal. Ironically, the signature stunt of the former horseman was to lift a horse onto his shoulders – a stunt that stunned spectators and fellow strongmen.
On March 25, 1901, while in Montréal, Quebec., Edouard wrestled Louis Cyr, a man still often considered to be the strongest man in history. The match was very short, with Cyr easily winning the match, but by this point Edouard Beaupré was being ravaged by tuberculosis, was worn down by life on the road and was weakened by a body the refused to stop growing.
On July 3, 1904, while on tour with the Barnum and Bailey Circus, Beaupré collapsed following a performance at the Louisiana Purchase exposition in St Louis. As the result of a massive pulmonary haemorrhage, the mighty Willow Bunch Giant was dead at the age of 23. Shortly before passing, the Giant asked for a glass of water, proclaimed that he was dying and lamented on how it was sad to die so young and so far away from dear parents.
At the time of his death Edouard Beaupré was 8 feet 3 inches tall. At the St. Louis fairgrounds Emergency Hospital, one Dr. R.B.H. Gradwohl performed an autopsy at the at the St. Louis fairgrounds Emergency Hospital and discovered that a pituitary gland tumour was the likely cause of Edouard’s enormous statue.
The corpse was then sent to a local undertaker, Eberle and Keyes, to be embalmed and prepared for interment. The remains were to be returned to Willow Bunch by William Burke, the circus manager, but he balked at the effort required and the shipping costs. Burke instead convinced the Beaupré family to bury Edouard honourably in St. Louis – in order to spare everyone the expenses involved. The family agreed and believed that the funeral took place, but instead Burke simply skipped town and left the cadaver unclaimed and the undertaker unpaid.
In an effort to recoup their expenses the funeral home opted to put the body of Edouard on display in a store window on Broadway, near Market Street, for profit.
Authorities demanded that the body of Edouard be removed. The giant corpse was was then sold to some enterprising soul and it later found its way back to Quebec where it was placed on display in the lobby of the Eden Museum, next to the National Monument on St-Laurent Street.
The body cause so much pedestrian traffic that the municipal authorities eventually demanded that it be removed.
ln the early spring of 1907, children found Edouard’s corpse in a shed at Montreal’s Bellerive Park, likely abandoned there by some unscrupulous circus or curiosities promoter. A Doctor was called and the body of The Willow Bunch Giant was soon in the possession of Dr. Louis Napoléon Delorme, professor at the Montréal University. Rather than interr the remains or properly lay Edouard Beaupré to rest, Delorme instead mummified the remains and placed them again on display for the Faculty of Medicine behind glass.
Finally, in the 1970’s, Ovila Lespérance, nephew of Edouard Beaupré began petitioning for Montreal University to release the remains to the descendants of The Willow Bunch Giant. In 1989, the University agreed to cremate the remains and finally on July 7, 1990 Edouard Beaupré was buried honourably in Willow Bunch at the feet of a life-sized statue dedicated to his remarkable spirit.
For 85 years, the Willow Bunch Giant roamed the earth. Today he is home, reunited with the family he loved so dearly.
For more information on the life of Edouard Beaupré, I highly recommend the Anatomy of Edouard Beaupre by Sarah Kathryn York.