Directors at the Peace River Regional District were recently asked to reconsider their lack of input over the province’s proposal to rescind the names of Bedaux Pass and Mount Bedaux.
Electoral Director Karen Goodings opted for reconsideration at the Jan. 27 meeting after receiving several phone calls and letters from concerned residents submitted to the PRRD explaining the significance of the Bedaux Expedition to the region.
“This is history, and you can’t erase history by removing a name. So that’s the whole being of these letters, is we have history, it happened, we need to recognize it and not try to change what’s already historical,” said Goodings.
“While I understand, and I think I spoke to it at the time, I actually didn’t have that much of a concern except that I wanted to make sure that both of those were recognized somehow and renamed appropriately.”
Bedaux Pass and Mount Bedaux are located at the headwaters of the Muskwa River in Kwadacha Wilderness Provincial Park, and named after the French-American industrialist Charles Bedaux, who led an infamous subarctic expedition through the region in 1934.
Bedaux, however, was later arrested for treason by the U.S. during the Second World War, on accusations that he was 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.
PRRD directors already agreed in November to send a letter to the province that rescinding the names of the landmarks were no concern, and under board procedure policy, cannot revisit the item.
Directors, however, agreed that municipal councils can individually express their dissatisfaction with the province’s suggestion to rescind the names.
Hudson’s Hope Mayor Heiberg will be taking the matter to his district council as an alternative.
“Not that I agree or disagree with the process, it’s just that there’s a lot of other information that has come forth after this that wasn’t clearly brought to the board at that time to make an appropriate decision, in my opinion,” said Heiberg.
“Given the amount of history that’s been done in the region, and the contributions that have been made toward the region at that particular time are substantial,” said Heiberg. “So we’re at a point here where we can’t really reconsider it, I think I’ll bring it back to my council for reconsideration, even though we haven’t dealt with it yet, and we’ll move forward in that direction.”
Those who sent letters will be receiving a reply from the PRRD explaining why they can’t revisit the matter.
Retired guide outfitter Ross Peck expressed his concern over the PRRD’s decision, noting the Hudson’s Hope Historical Society’s work in developing an award-winning exhibit on the Bedaux Expedition in 2009.
“Maintaining the Bedaux name on the topographic features in question serves as a reminder of the notable contributions of this rich and colourful expedition. Removal would leave a significant gap in BC history as well as the landscape,” wrote Peck, speaking of the cowboys, packers, and indigenous people who made the expedition possible.
Author and historian Jay Sherwood also penned a letter to the PRRD, and encouraged the public to familiarize themselves with the history before passing judgment, noting controversy surrounding Bedaux was well-known even by the time the names were adopted.
“There are other geographic features in BC named for Nazi sympathizers, along with some for people convicted of crimes,” said Sherwood. “To arbitrarily remove the two for Bedaux would open the whole issue of moral judgment to all of the geographic names in BC, names that were approved by the Geographic Board of Canada at that time.”
Sherwood was the editor of Bannock and Beans, an account of the expedition written by Bob White, one of the local cowboys hired by Bedaux, and has also written a biography on Frank Swannell, the surveyor responsible for naming the landmarks.
Long-time resident Arthur Hadland says his family has fond memories of the expedition, with Bedaux’s convoy having driven past his grandparents’ farm in Baldonnel in 1934. Hadland said that despite the controversy surrounding Bedaux, the expedition lifted locals from poverty during the Great Depression.
“Suffice to say Charles Bedaux was a controversial character who contributed largely to the Peace River during the depths of the depression,” said Hadland. “It is clear that the PRRD Board never had the opportunity to review the file or any background information.”