Edouard Beaupré (January 9, 1881 – July 3, 1904) was a circus and freak show giant, wrestler, strongman, and a star in Barnum and Bailey’s circus.
Beaupré was the eldest of 20 children born to Gaspard and Florestine (born Piché) Beaupré in the newly founded parish of Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan, Canada, and was the first child to be baptized in the parish. Beaupré did not appear abnormally large at birth, and for the first three years of his life, his growth was relatively normal. However, Edouard’s growth rate then increased dramatically, so much so that by age nine he was six feet tall, and by the age of 17 his height was recorded at 7 feet 1 inch (2.16 metres). In 1902, Edouard’s height was measured at 8 feet 2.5 inches (2.50 metres) and he weighed over 400 pounds (180 kilograms). His death certificate described him as being 8 ft 3 in (2.51 m) tall and still growing.
As a young man Beaupré quickly grew into a first-rate horseman. Edouard had a dream of becoming a cowboy when he was growing up. When Beaupré was 15, he quit school to pursue his dreams of riding the open range. Legend has it that he had to give up his cowboy dream because his legs dragged on the ground when he rode even the tallest horses, but that is unlikely, since an average-sized saddle horse is about 5 feet tall at the saddle. He then decided to use his size to his advantage to support his family. Edouard would become known as the “Willow Bunch Giant”.
At the urging of others and to help support his family, he went on to tour the North American freak show circuit. Over the years he would be stared at by onlookers, wrestle strongmen, and perform feats of strength. His signature stunt was crouching underneath a horse and lifting it up to his shoulders. He would then go on to star in Barnum and Bailey Circus, even though life on the road was not easy for Beaupré. (To accommodate his size, hotel staff would line up trunks to support a second mattress to lengthen his bed.) He would spend the latter part of his short life performing in freak shows and circuses reportedly lifting horses as heavy as 900 pounds (410 kg).
While in Montréal, Que., March 25, 1901, Edouard wrestled Louis Cyr, who was known as one of the strongest men. The match was very short, Cyr winning the match, because Edouard didn’t dare to really touch him, probably because of his gentle nature.
In 1902 Beaupré was diagnosed with tuberculosis. By the time he reached the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, his rapid growth and the disease had taken a heavy toll on him. He became ill and died at a local St. Louis hospital on July 3, 1904. Even at the time of his death at age 23, doctors determined that Beaupré was still growing.
Gaspard Beaupré made a trip to St. Louis to retrieve his son’s body. When he reached his destination, however, Gaspard turned back when he realized that he didn’t have enough money to pay double fare to return home with the body.
The elder Beaupré believed his son’s body was going to be buried in St. Louis or used for medical experiments, but that was not the case. When the circus refused to pay for the transportation costs back to Willow Bunch, Edouard Beaupré’s body was embalmed and put on display.
Around 1905, his body made its way to a museum in Montreal and then a circus. When the circus went bankrupt, the body was claimed by the Université de Montréal, whose scientists then discovered the cause of Beaupré’s giant status — his pituitary gland had secreted an abnormal amount of growth hormone throughout his body.
In 1975 Ovila Lespérance, Beaupré’s nephew, discovered the whereabouts of his uncle’s body. Lespérance’s efforts to return Beaupré’s body back to Willow Bunch were unsuccessful, as the university claimed it was still needed for research and refused to assist with the efforts to give Beaupré a proper burial. An agreement was finally reached in 1989. To ensure that Beaupré would not be publicly displayed or used for personal gain, his family insisted that his body be cremated. His remains were brought to Willow Bunch, and buried during a memorial service on July 7, 1990.