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Canadian Giants

Anna Swan (1846-1888)

Anna Swann was born in 1846 at Mill Brook, Nova Scotia. At age five, she was 4 feet 8 inches (142 cm) tall and weighed over 100 pounds (45 kg). At 22, she weighed 352 pounds (160 kg) and was 7 feet 6 inches (228 cm) tall.

In 1862, Anna was offered a job with P.T. Barnum that paid $1,000 a month and provided a private tutor so Anna could continue her studies. Anna was on display at the American Museum in New York. As the only female giant in the world at the time, Anna attracted large crowds. When a fire broke out in the museum in 1865, Anna nearly burned to death. The stairway was blocked by flames and she could not fit through the windows. Fortunately, museum employees smashed the wall around a third floor window, then lifted Anna to safety using a block and tackle with 18 men holding the rope.

Photograph of Anna Swan, standing beside a woman of average height

Anna Swan with a woman of average height

Photograph of Anna Swan and her husband beside a man of average height, between 1878 and 1888

Anna Swan and her husband, Martin van Buren Bates with a man of average height, between 1878 and 1888

While crossing the Atlantic Ocean for a European tour, Anna met Kentucky giant Martin Van Buren Bates. They married in England on June 17, 1871 and toured together as the world's largest married couple, giving command performances for Queen Victoria and the then Prince of Wales. Returning to North America, Anna's husband built them a house in Ohio with 14-foot ceilings and furniture made to measure. Though the couple had a daughter, and later a son, both children were abnormally large and neither infant survived. Anna died of tuberculosis in 1888.


Anna Swan: Nova Scotia's Remarkable Giantess. SchoolNet Digital Collections, Industry Canada.
(accessed February 23, 2005).

The Nova Scotia Giantess Archive. Centre for History and New Media.
(accessed February 23, 2005).

"Swan, Anna Haining (Bates)." Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
(accessed February 23, 2005).

"Swan, Anna Haining." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1985, p. 1777.