The Pétain Falls in the Pétain Basin. Photo courtesy BC Parks

The Pétain Falls in the Pétain Basin. Photo courtesy BC Parks

Mount Pétain in the Rockies to have name rescinded

Mountain, glacier and creek named after French general are facing a name-change, more than 100 years after their naming

A mountain, glacier and creek in the Rocky Mountains are facing a name-change, more than 100 years after their naming.

The BC Geographical Society has gotten a request to rescind the three official names of the features that sit on the B.C.-Alberta border, 50 miles east of Invermere on the continental divide. The Society has asked the Regional District of East Kootenay for input.

Mount Pétain, Pétain Glacier and Pétain Creek — which form the Pétain Basin — sit in a rugged mountain area of spectacular scenery, straddling three provincial parks in B.C. and Alberta, and is a renowned hiking area. The features were named after Marshall Henri Phillipe Pétain, a First World War French general.

In 1916, Pétain led the French Army to victory at the nine-month-long Battle of Verdun in 1916, the longest battle of the First World War. He was subsequently appointed Commander-in-Chief and was renowned afterwards as a national hero.

His name was given to the mountain in 1918, as a signal honour by the Canadian government.

Pictured: Marshall Henri Phillipe Pétain. (Wikipedia)

In 1940, with France about to fall to the Germans, the French president resigned, and Pétain was appointed to the position.

France then signed armistice agreements with Germany and Italy, and Pétain subsequently headed up the government of Vichy France, a collaborationist ally of Nazi Germany that anti-semitic and other racially based policies, including the deportation of Jews to concentration camps.

After the war, Pétain was tried and convicted of treason, and found partly responsible for the murder of 76,000 Jews. He was originally sentenced to death, but due to his age and World War I service his sentence was commuted to life in prison. He died in 1951.

His successor Charles de Gaulle wrote that Pétain’s life was “successively banal, then glorious, then deplorable, but never mediocre”.

According to policy, before making any name changes, the BC Geographical Society must determine if the decision would support or conflict with the “heritage values of the area.” As such, the Society requested input from the RDEK as the local government.

At the RDEK board meeting, Friday, Oct. 8, directors voted to support removing the Mount Pétain, Pétain Glacier and Pétain Creek names from provincial maps. Four directors voted against changing the name. Eleven voted in favour.

In 2019, the government of Alberta voted to rescind the names that are in their jurisdiction.

The request from the BC BC Geographical Society to rescind the names does not included replacing the names at this time.

Also in the vicinity of the Pétain Basin is Mount Foch, on the border of Alberta and B.C. on the Continental Divide. It was named in 1918 after Marshall Ferdinand Foch, the French general and military theorist who served as the Supreme Allied Commander during the First World War.

The BC Geographical Society runs under the auspices of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development.