BOW VALLEY, Alta – Going on a hike in the Canadian Rockies, you are surrounded by mountains named for prime ministers, war heroes and dignitaries.
In Kananaskis Country on the Alberta and British Columbia border, one mountain was named for Henri Philippe Petain, the French field marshal who led his men to victory at the 1916 Battle of Verdun.
While Petain gained the honour of the mountain name for his First World War efforts, it was his actions during the Second World War that resulted in that name being removed.
During the Second World War, Petain led the Vichy French government in German-occupied France, where he worked closely with the Nazi administration. After the war, he was tried and convicted for treason against the French government.
It was that history that always bothered Geoffrey Taylor, who advocated for the mountain to be stripped of its name. Six years after he started the effort to remove the name, and two years after he died, his son Duncan is pleased to see the name gone from the mountain.
“Each day this guy’s name was on the peak, on the map of our country, was a day too long,” Duncan Taylor said.
The family had visited the Bow Valley on a regular basis since 1989 when they bought a weekend place in Canmore. The family would often go hiking in Kananaskis Country and Geoffrey Taylor, who was a history buff, would learn about the peaks in the area, who named them and who they were named for.
“Right from when we started visiting the Upper Kananaskis Lakes area, where you have all those world war themed mountains, he was probably aware of it,” Duncan said. “Most people will drive through the area and very few will look up the names of the mountains. Unless you are looking at a trail map, you won’t know the names of the mountains.”
Since Mount Petain was named a century ago, Duncan Taylor believes it was simply a case of no one looking into the name.
“With someone like Petain, you have to know what the history was,” Taylor said. “I like to think it slipped through the cracks.”
The name would continue to bother Geoffrey Taylor, leading him to bring it up often to the family and others.
“My dad would complain about the mountain to anyone who would listen,” Duncan Taylor said. “There is a form on the Alberta government website that allows you to suggest a change to the name of a geographical feature. One day, I printed it off and put it in his hands.”
Geoffrey Taylor filled it out and sent it off. The father and son then began contacting anyone they believed could help get the mountain’s name changed.
“We regularly emailed our MLAs and the Minister of Culture and Tourism, whichever minister was responsible, they would hear from us,” Duncan Taylor said. “I would get periodic updates that they were consulting with Indigenous groups. We said we understood that, that it was important, but how about we leave it unnamed until we figure out an appropriate traditional name.”
The removal of the mountain peak name is not the first in the area.
In 2021, a mountain peak that had a racist nickname in the Municipal District of Bighorn that overlooks Canmore was named Anû Kathâ Îpa, which means Bald Eagle Peak in English. A second mountain peak close to the Banff townsite called Stoney Squaw – a racial slur against Indigenous women – will also be renamed, with the province and Parks Canada working with Indigenous communities to find the best name.
Geoffrey Taylor lived long enough to see the name rescinded by the Alberta government. It was then removed by the British Columbia government, which was accomplished on June 29, two years after Geoffrey Taylor passed away.
No new name has been chosen for the mountain at this point, as the provincial governments will have to consult with local stakeholders to choose a new name.
“He did live to hear that Alberta rescinded the name; he was pleased about that. He probably thought it took longer than it should have,” Duncan Taylor said. “The next time my family and I are in the area, we can look up at the skyline and the mountains and know because of my dad’s persistence and dedication, the map of the country is a bit different and hopefully for the better.”