Well, it never got an Oscar, but there was no lack of drama.
This is the story of a hare-brained adventure cooked up by an eccentric millionaire in search of excitement, publicity, notoriety… who really knows what sort of goals produce a crazy expedition like this one?
The 1934 Bedaux Expedition (more grandly called the Bedaux Canadian Subarctic Expedition) was the brainchild of Charles Eugene Bedaux, a French-born American moneybags with the time, funds and inclination to do something great. But why limit oneself? The ambitious plan to test drive Citroen half-tracks from Edmonton through the wilds of northern British Columbia and arrive victorious in Telegraph Creek was not enough: Bedaux would also make a movie.
What to pack for such an undertaking? One’s wife, of course, must come along, and one’s mistress (an Italian countess who required a maid). A camera man and director (Floyd Crosby, who later found fame as director of High Noon). Several authentic Alberta cowboys, large film crew, two geographers to map the route, five Citroen half tracks, assorted horses (one for the ladies’ shoes), caviar, etc. All set for a 2,400 km trek.
There had, of course, been a training camp, compulsory to all members of the expedition as essential to their success on such a trying journey. Champagne parties and bon voyage parties were in abundance: a good time was had by all.
On July 4, 1934, the five Citroen half tracks (Citroen was a personal friend of Bedaux) and nearly 100 expedition members left Edmonton after a champagne breakfast. It began to rain. It barely stopped raining that summer. The Citroens, triumphant in the Sahara Desert, were just as mired down in our fine Alberta gumbo as everything else. Neither rollers, wheels nor tracks could tackle the “road” to northern Alberta with ease.
Nevertheless, by July 12 the Bedaux Expedition had reached Grande Prairie and, by the 17th, Bedaux and crew had penetrated northern B.C. as far as Taylor. Fort St. John was a longer stopover as the expedition restocked, repaired and refueled: they were champagned and dined in a style befitting famous adventurers.
Only, Bedaux didn’t feel the rest of the world was paying enough attention to his brave undertaking. He needed to add more drama. First the radio operator was fired: the expedition would continue without a safety line of communication. Then, one by one, the Citroens were disposed of – dramatically, on film. Two were pushed off cliffs (Bedaux would explain this one to Citroen when he got back…). Another was floated down river on a raft, meant to be blown up by dynamite. However, the dynamite never blew and the half track and raft kept on floating until they lodged on a sand bar. The final two were simply abandoned.
Of course, the newspapers were informed that the expedition had lost three of its cars in situations most perilous to the men. Indeed, some had very nearly lost their lives (probably when the ladies found out the plans). How intrepid the party was to continue! How utterly sensational!
Despite clear warnings against proceeding, the group did continue, on horseback, into the snowy mountains. They were determined to reach Telegraph Creek by October. Just kilometres short of their destination, Bedaux finally woke up to the realities of approaching winter in the wilderness. Their horses were dying of diseases, the terrain was arduous, the weather was turning. The party turned also: back to Hudson’s Hope – for a party like Hudson’s Hope had never seen before.
Bedaux never made his movie. Not until 61 years later, in 1994, did Crosby’s footage resurface, made into a documentary by filmmaker George Ungar. It is called The Champagne Safari.