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Charles Bedaux & "The Champagne Expedition"

by Murray Lundberg

    On July 6, 1934, one of the most bizarre expeditions to ever head into the Northern bush left Edmonton. Led by a French millionaire, Charles Eugene Bedaux, it was conceived for the purpose of exploring the region between Edmonton and Telegraph Creek, on the Stikine River. As well as being a very "civilized" adventure, it was also to provide a test of Citroën's new half-track vehicles.

    The party consisted of Bedaux, with his wife and a lady friend, a valet and maid-in-waiting to look after their personal needs, and a vast support company of vehicles, animals and men. The convoy of 2 limousines, 5 Citroën half-tracks, and 130 horses loaded with provisions and gasoline cans naturally aroused substantial comment in Edmonton, virtually none of it complimentary to Bedaux' sanity.

    Despite the fact that Bedaux had professed to have a strong interest in scientific exploration, and had hired noted surveyor Frank Swannell to accompany them and draw maps of the route, 100 pounds of Swannell's surveying equipment were among the first items to be discarded when the going got tough. Cases of champagne, exotic foods such as caviar and truffles, and clothing suitable for society balls were, however, indispensable.

    The logistical difficulties of moving a large entourage through the Northern 'bush' were far beyond what any of Bedaux' experts had expected, however. Swamps, mountains and rivers destroyed the vehicles one by one, and supplying the expedition became impossible.

    In late October, with snow falling heavily, the order was given to abandon the project and flee back to civilization with all possible haste. At a cost of over $250,000, Bedaux had provided a great deal of interesting copy for newspapers, as well as some valuable information on the logistical problems of taking a large group into the wilderness with motor vehicles.

    Although not well planned, Charles Bedaux' expedition had, as he remarked once back in Edmonton, made a start on a land route to Alaska. Mount Bedaux (2,274 meters / 7,461 feet high) and Bedaux Pass in Kwadacha Wilderness Park in northern British Columbia (southwest of Fort Nelson) now honour his efforts.

    Films from Bedaux's adventure were the basis for an award-winning Canadian documentary, The Champagne Safari.

    In February 1978, Car and Driver magazine published an illustrated 4-page article entitled "The Great White Cruise, or: How Charles Bedaux Tried to Conquer the Canadian Rockies With a Citroën Half-Track and Almost Invented Off-Road Racing" - you can read it here (pdf, 2.8MB).

    In August 2018, The Globe and Mail published an illustrated article by Brendan McAleer about the Reynolds-Alberta Museum and their Citroen from the Bedaux expedition. It's online here.