The Cape Breton Giant accomplished legendary feats of strength
Published Monday, March 11, 2019 5:15PM ADT
Last Updated Monday, March 11, 2019 7:50PM ADT
Englishtown's giant Angus MacAskill is still considered the biggest natural giant in history.
And though it's been more than 150 years since his death, his feats of strength are still legendary and some descendants still follow in the giant's footsteps.
Englishtown is nestled at the base of Kelly's Mountain in Cape Breton, with a population of less than 200.
Nearly two centuries ago, it was home to Angus (Giant) MacAskill, the largest person in the world.
Kennie MacAskill still lives in Englishtown and the giant was his father's uncle.
“He was seven foot nine,” said Kennie MacAskill. “And he was 80 inches around the chest.”
At a pretty trim 425 pounds, the giant was well-proportioned and ordinary in every way, apparently, except his size and his strength.
They say he could deadlift an anchor weighing 2,000 pounds.
His herculean feats, while based a lot on hearsay, are still legendary.
“Ibelieve it to be true that he would sometimes take the horse out of the plough, and just pull the plough behind himself,” said Kennie MacAskill.
The giant's descendants who we met up with are ordinary in size -- so were Angus MacAskill's parents.
At a time well before radio, TV or the internet, word of the "Cape Breton Giant" spread worldwide.
He traveled the globe with P.T. Barnum's circus, shocking audiences when he'd appear next to General Tom Thumb.
“I can only imagine how popular he was at the time and how fascinated people would have been with him at the time,” Stephen MacAskill, also a descendant of the giant.
At 101 years young, Jessie Ross is the giant's oldest living relative.
Born little more than a half-century after he died, the stories she remembers are a link to the past.
“He was kind and gentle,” Ross said of her grand-uncle. “Quiet with his strength, and it's good that he was. He could have hurt so many people, just with a slap of his hand.”
Down the road, many of the giant's oversized personal effects are displayed at the Giant MacAskill Museum.
There's his bed, which was big enough to fit several people, his chair, and his coat -- more than a metre wide in the shoulders -- and one of his boots, which more than 40 centimetres long.
Overlooking St. Ann's Bay, in fact right across from the Englishtown ferry, is the giant's final resting place.
It's pretty well inaccessible right now because of the snow, but in the summer it's a busy tourist spot.
In fact, for many visitors from all over the world, the giant's grave is the first stop they make before touring the Cabot Trail.
“They realize that there was a giant, alright, and the stories are true,” said Kennie MacAskill.
A look at the MacAskill family tree shows how large the giant's legacy still looms, with family ties across the Maritimes and around the world.
He's cast a ‘great, big’ shadow over proud generations.
“Not only for the family, but I think for the island,” said Stephen MacAskill. “He's an historic figure for the island. Because people hear the stories of Angus, and want to come to Cape Breton and maybe visit the museum, and just take in where he grew up.”
Even one of Nova Scotia's most popular craft beers bears the name “Black Angus.”
MacAskill was only in his late 30s when he died at home in Cape Breton in 1863.
The fact that his name still lives on is something his family appreciates.
“I'm very proud, I am,” Ross said of the large legacy left by a gentle giant.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Ryan MacDonald.