Exhibition ~ The Birth Of Gianthropology

October 2020 through September 2021


CBC / Radio Canada Building

700 block of Hamilton Street

Vancouver, Canada

Curated by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation

THE WALL, located on the CBC Plaza on the 700 block of Hamilton Street across from the Vancouver Public Library is an artists’ platform made possible through a unique partnership between Vancouver Heritage Foundation and the CBC, with support from JJ Bean Coffee Roasters and the City of Vancouver Public Art Program. It is the site of a changing program of artworks responding to and reflecting upon Vancouver’s built environment and includes an Artist in Residence program at the CBC Archives. With THE WALL and its cultural programming, Vancouver Heritage Foundation is broadening the way in which Vancouver’s built environment is interpreted and perceived.

THE WALL Partners:

CBC / Radio Canada

JJ Bean Coffee Roasters

City of Vancouver

Vancouver Heritage Foundation

Additional support is provided by:

Knight Signs and Process Color

The WALL Public Art Project:  The Birth Of Gianthropology ~ The Giant Hand & Loaf

60 feet wide by 40 feet high with descriptive didactic posted on the wall below.

Located on the CBC Plaza in the 700 block of Hamilton Street.

Didactic Panel Text Displayed Below Mural:

The Giant Hand And The Birth of Gianthropology


In the grand scheme of Vancouver’s heritage, the neon period from 1925 to 1960 is perhaps the city’s most heralded example of its transition from gloomy sawmill town to vibrant metropolis. At the peak of this glowing epoch there were thousands of electrified gas filled glass tubes in the Terminal City’s neon jungle. A big hiccup in this bright-lights-big-city story came with the blackouts of WWII when civil defence restrictions lead to a new category of no neon outdoor advertising known as “Spectaculars.”

When McGavin’s Bakery approached Neon Products for an animated neon of Mother Hubbard’s bread, a “Spectacular” was suggested instead. A hand of enormous proportions was proposed, roughly the same size as the Statue of Liberty’s, but instead of grasping the eternal flame of freedom, Mother Hubbard’s digits would raise on high a leviathan loaf of  liberty bread! Genius! McGavin’s, a big supporter of Victory Bonds, approved.

Ironically, work on the Giant Hand & Loaf  didn’t begin until after blackout restrictions had been lifted at the end of the war. Progress slowed when McGavin’s roof required fortification supporting the added weight. Then the “Spectacular” installers were unavailable, preoccupied by a Log Cabin Cookies billboard featuring a real log cabin with smoking chimney and Mom inside whipping up maple creams. Finally in September 1948, the “Spectacular” crew convened on the roof of McGavin’s and over the next four months assembled the sheet metal loaf and concrete mixed with vermiculite hand, and a cuff hiding the steel bridgework. The finished Giant Hand & Loaf stood atop McGavin’s bakery from 1949 through 1973.

When Henri Robideau photographed the Giant Hand & Loaf in February 1973, its cuff had blown away in a wind storm and one of its fingers had rotted off. This image became the first in his life-long photographic study of humanity’s attraction to bigness, a new science he called Gianthropology. He conducted Gianthropological Digs along the Pacific cordillera throughout the 1970’s, culminating in the 1980 exhibition Giant Things, featuring the Giant Hand & Loaf as its signature image. Expanding on that huge success he launched the Pancanadienne Gianthropological Survey, portaging around Canada in the 1980’s, photographing the monumental in the form of panoramic images. After a dozen exhibitions of his panoramas, they were catastrophically destroyed in the Montreal flood of July 14, 1987. His lost work was later celebrated in the 1988 post deluge book Pacific To Atlantic, Canada’s Gigantic!

Turtle Islander Henri Robideau, born 1946 in Bristol Connecticut, came to Vancouver in 1969, a refugee from the violence of America. His photography and writing are grounded in history, humour and the ironic tragedy of human existence.

The WALL is located on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the xwməθkwəyəm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Səlílwətaʔ (Tsleil-Waututh) peoples.