Charles Bedaux with a film crew during his expedition through Northeast B.C., August 1934. Frank Swannell/British Columbia Archives

By Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative

Mount Bedaux and the Bedaux Pass in Northeast B.C. may soon have their names removed from the map due to concerns the local landmarks commemorate an accused war criminal. 

The two sites are located at the headwaters of the Muskwa River in Kwadacha Wilderness Provincial Park, and named after the French-American industrialist Charles Bedaux, who in 1934 led an infamous subarctic expedition through the region. 

Bedaux, however, was later arrested for treason by the U.S. during the Second World War, accused of aligning his business interests and conspiring with Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied France. He committed suicide in 1944 in a Florida prison while awaiting trial.

The BC Geographical Names Office is now considering whether to rescind  the names of the two sites after a request by a B.C. resident who considers them inappropriate, and is seeking comment from the Peace River Regional District, First Nation communities, and mountain clubs.

“Before any naming decisions are made, it is important to ascertain if the decision would support or conflict with the heritage values of the area,”  Provincial Toponymist Carla Jack wrote in a Nov. 4 letter to the PRRD. “The request currently under consideration is to rescind the two names and does not include replacing the names at this time.”

The PRRD discussed the item at their Nov. 18 board meeting and has no issue with rescinding the names, but would like to know what the mount and pass will be renamed. 

“I have no real problem removing Mr. Bedaux’s name, but I do want to know how those two, the Bedaux Pass and Mount Bedaux will be named in the future. Because some of that is the history of our area, and the one in particular is a historical pass across land where there is no road, but it was a trail, and is recognized as a trail,” said Electoral Area B Director Karen Goodings. 

Mount Bedaux and Bedaux Pass, located at the headwaters of the Muskwa River in Kwadacha Wilderness Provincial Park near Fort Nelson. BC Geographical Names Office

Bedaux is relevant to the area’s history, having arrived from Edmonton in summer 1934 and employing many well-known pioneer cowboys and packers during his so-called ‘Champagne Safari’ to open a route from Fort St. John to Telegraph Creek. 

More than 100 people took part in the journey, including a film crew, documenting the convoy of Citroën half-tracks across the rugged, uncharted terrain of the north. Bedaux’s quest ultimately failed, with the expedition abandoning its efforts later that fall due to adverse weather and poor planning.

The names of Mount Bedaux and the Bedaux Pass were first recorded by B.C. Land Surveyor Frank Swannell, who was appointed by the government to accompany the expedition. Bedaux Pass was formally adopted as a place name on November 30, 1944, and Mount Bedaux on April 7, 1949.

“The 1934 Bedaux Expedition established its leader as one of the most flamboyant explorers in Canadian history: champagne, caviar, mistress and ladies maid; over-equipped, ill-equipped and peppered with staged mishaps, directed by Hollywood cinematographer Floyd Crosby,” reads a posting on the BC Geographical Names website. “Bedaux was convinced that his party could locate a route and drive a fleet of automobiles from Edmonton through the unmapped northern Rocky Mountain Divide, thence by way of Telegraph Creek to Alaska, a distance of 2400 km.”

Fort St. John North Peace Museum Curator Heather Sjoblom says the expedition still contributed to the history of the region despite Bedaux’s failed expedition, and his later ties to the Nazis and Axis powers during the Second World War. The expedition took place before the monumental undertaking of building the Alaska Highway in 1942.

“He really did make a difference in this area, but maybe in some ways it would be better to name them after someone local who’s potentially more worthy,” Sjoblom said. “Charles Bedaux’s expedition here in 1934 brought a ton of attention to the area and really made a difference for the average people who were living here in the midst of the Great Depression, who were struggling to get through it.” 

If Bedaux’s name is rescinded from the landmarks, they will no longer be labelled on B.C. maps or distributed as an official place name in the province, Jack noted in her letter to the PRRD. However, provincial records would “forever include the history” that they once commemorated him, Jack noted.

“Until such a time that a broadly supported naming proposal is brought forward and officially adopted,” Jack wrote, “references to each of these features will likely be in relation to nearby named features or by GPS coordinates, as needed.”

The BC Geographical Names website notes the Sekani name for Bedaux Pass is Dawunèska, with the origin and meaning of the name not currently known.

The regional district board meets on [November 18].

This item is reprinted with permission from Alaska Highway News. See article HERE.

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