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Hudson's Hope Museum News: True northern grit

BedauxExpedition-FSJMuseum 2012.024.056
Historical photograph of Bedaux Expedition pack train going up the big bar of the Muskwa River in 1934. (Fort St. John North Peace Museum Archives / 2012.024.056)

The past is coming full circle again.

You might have read this month that the province is contemplating removing the names of Mount Bedaux and Bedaux Pass, due to the ties French-American industrialist Charles Bedaux had to Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War.

The mount and the pass got their names in 1934 when Bedaux led an infamous subarctic expedition through the region using experimental half-track Citroens. The expedition has always been a point of pride for the Hudson's Hope Museum, as several local cowboys, guides, and packers were employed by Bedaux during the midst of the Great Depression.

Willard Freer, my great uncle, was one of the men who took part in that journey, before his time further north in Fireside. I’m proud to say he was there. The expedition added character to the region’s history, and removing the names of the two landmarks will never change that. 

It's worth noting the names of Mount Bedaux and Bedaux Pass were formally adopted by the province in 1944 and 1949, after Bedaux's Nazi ties were already exposed and publicized. 

Bedaux was a war profiteer, a profession that is still alive and well today. Ultimately, justice was done for his crimes — he was arrested in 1942 and handed over to the Americans, and later killed himself in a Florida jail before he could be put on trial. 

You can't say the same for many Nazi war criminals and conspirators who escaped punishment, or were even adopted by Allied countries after the war.

But if the names must change, it would be appropriate to use the Sekani name for Bedaux Pass, which is Dawunèska, or to name them after the cowboys who worked so hard to blaze a trail into that northern wilderness. 

We celebrated the 75th anniversary of the expedition in 2009 with a new exhibit and a re-creation of the events that took place all those years ago. It was the opportunity of a lifetime for those men, and what they accomplished took true northern grit and determination. 

Local historian Ross Peck, and long-time museum board member, shares these views. Read his letter below and decide for yourself what rings true.

Re: Bedaux landmark names

With considerable background in chronicling the Bedaux “story” through my association with the Hudson’s Hope Historical society, and as the retired guide outfitter in the area where the two offending landmarks are located, I would like to offer the following for consideration.

As much as we would like to sanitize the past, the proposed removal of these names will not achieve that. It is an historical fact that Charles Bedaux organized and financed a major expedition through northeastern BC in 1934 (as well as two other hunting trips in 1926 and 1932). 

We can only speculate on his true motives but given that two of British Columbia’s prominent surveyors (Frank Swannell and Ernest Lamarque) were attached to the expedition, it resulted in a much better understanding of the geography and layout of northern BC’s remote mountainous region. The current names of many of the area’s topographical features can be traced to that time. 

In the midst of the depression, the 1934 expedition brought  much needed diversion, employment and an economic boost to the Peace River country. Many of the Bedaux “cowboys” were prominent Peace River pioneers, and as they commented at the wind up celebration in Hudson’s Hope, “Mr Bedaux, when you need us again we are willing, to go… Yes sir to the end of the earth!”

I see the PRRD is concerned what the new names might be. Perhaps it is time to establish a committee to review and evaluate era appropriate names. I suggest we just start with the letter “B”, which should be fairly neutral, and depending on your persuasion, you can secretly pick your theme (Big mountain, Bannock and Beans pass, BS pass, etc.). With climate change, fires, floods, COVID and what have you, it might be a pleasant diversion, not quite champagne and caviar but times they are a changing!

— Ross Peck, Skookumchuck, B.C.

New curator

I’m also pleased to announce that our search for a new curator is over, with Patti Campbell talking the helm. She’s a long-time resident of Hudson’s Hope and has run the Friends of Hudson’s Hope Society for many years.

We’re fortunate to have someone community minded on board with us, and as I’ve stated before the right people in the right place make all the difference.

It’s been strange not to have our previous curator, Elinor Morrissey, who’s greatly missed by the community at large, keeping everything running smoothly, but I’m more than confident Patti will make the role her own.

Thanks are also owed to our summer student Joey Poirier for sticking around a little longer to keep the building staffed and our doors open.

The museum is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. We’re always looking for volunteers so if you have a keen interest in history or would just like to learn a little more about the Peace River valley, come out and volunteer. We have lots of scanning and accessioning of historical photos and artifacts to be done. Training is provided.

If you would like any further information, please call 250-783-5735 or email at hhmuseum@pris.ca.


Tom Summer is President of the Hudson's Hope Historical Society