Geoffrey Taylor’s success in having the name of Henri Philippe Petain struck from a mountain in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park left some unfinished business, said his son.
So Calgarian Duncan Taylor took it upon himself to have the name of the Vichy France leader who collaborated with the Nazis during the Second World War be removed from the B.C. side of the peak and from other nearby features.
Late last month, he learned his efforts had reached their own summit with word from the B.C. government that Petain’s name would be removed from the mountain, a glacier and a creek in that province.
“Unfortunately, my dad passed away in 2020 so I tried to take the ball across the finish line,” said Taylor.
“He’d be happy it’s finally done.”
The elder Taylor, an Edmonton infectious disease physician, began petitioning the Alberta government to drop Petain’s name in 2016.
“My dad was a bit of a history geek and whenever we’d go on a hike, he would talk about what or who these mountains were named after,” said Taylor.
“I said, ‘If you’re going to complain about it, complain to someone who can do something about it.’”
The 3,183-metre peak was named after the French field marshal soon after the First World War in 1919 in honour of his victory at the 1916 Battle of Verdun.
Numerous other mountains within sight of Calgary were christened around the same time after First World War battles and Allied military leaders or warships, including Mount Hood, Mount Foch, Mount Evan-Thomas and Mount Blane.
But the perception of Petain took a dramatic turn during and after the Second World War when he led the Vichy French government that ruled the country’s south after the German conquest in 1940.
He was widely considered a Nazi collaborationist who aided and abetted the Holocaust in the rump French state.
After the war, he was convicted of treason by a French court, but due to his advanced age, a death sentence was commuted to life in prison.
“He even congratulated the Germans for killing Canadian soldiers after the (1942) Dieppe raid,” said Taylor.
“There’s no way a mountain in Canada should be named after him.”
The B.C. government also agreed and as of June 29, rescinded Petain’s name from the three geographical features.
“The place name records online will forever include the history of these names having once commemorated Pétain, but the names will no longer be labelled on provincial maps or distributed as an official place name in B.C.,” B.C. government toponymist Trent Thomas said in a letter to Taylor.
“Until such a time that a broadly supported naming proposal is brought forward and officially adopted in accordance with the policy, references to each of these features will likely be in relation to nearby named features or by GPS co-ordinates, as needed.”
The letter said dropping Petain’s name found agreement with a host of outdoor groups, including Avalanche Canada, the B.C. Mountaineering Club, the Alpine Club of Canada and several First Nations.
Some of those same groups will be consulted in choosing replacement names, said Thomas.
Taylor said the Alberta government has yet to rename its side of the peak.
He’s not aware of anyone else insisting on their re-christenings during the nearly 80 years following the end of the Second World War.
It’s possible there wasn’t much awareness of Petain’s role during that war “or maybe nobody cared as much as my dad did,” he said.