By Maxime Corneau - The Army Cadet League of Canada
If you are at all familiar with the cadet program, then you know that this is an outstanding leadership program, open to all between the ages of 12 and 18, that allows our youth to prosper in a positive, well-mannered and structured environment. Not only does this program provide them with a multitude of life skills, which they can apply throughout their lives, it also helps to develop their confidence and set their sights on a bright future, regardless of the field they chose to pursue. This has always been what the program was meant to be for our young Canadians since the Army Cadet Program began over 100 years ago.
However, it was in 1975 that these same opportunities became open to females. Girls could finally join their local Army Cadet Corps. From that day forward, all the girls who joined also benefitted from being part of this program; however, it also helped them set their sights on higher goals and careers that weren’t necessarily open or known to them before.
Take Victoria Walsh as an example. Although she was a cadet at the 3018 Army Cadet Corps in Orleans, Ontario, in the early 1990s, she went on to pursue her goals and her dreams of completing her Canadian Armed Forces Parachutist Course once she joined the primary reserve.
“I was a reservist, in a support trade, and female ... yet I got my basic para wings, went on to military freefall parachutist, and became the fourth female to EVER be a demonstrator on the Canadian Armed Forces Parachute Team — the SkyHawks,” Walsh states.
What is important to know though, is that the thought of her pursuing her dream of parachuting started in cadets, when she became aware that it was a possibility. Her cadet path simply took her in another direction, one she does not regret. She travelled to Banff, Alberta, for summer training, where she learned a multitude of valuable skills that, no matter how you look at it, ended up being extremely valuable, even today. These days, Victoria is on to her third career as she is studying to become a nurse.
For Gisele Sonier, originally from Lévis, Québec, August 22, 1979 is a date that she will never forget. It was the day she joined her local Army Cadet Corps. Although girls were a minority in the group at the time, she felt strongly about joining the program, and quickly understood the benefits it would provide her throughout her own path. It gave her a sense of wanting to accomplish something, to be part of a strong unit and contributing to a world that was quickly changing. It was very soon after she graduated cadets that, due to the lack of female leaders in the program, her commanding officer asked her to join the corps as a civilian instructor. She was needed to help as an escort for the girls during their activities.
Quickly after that, Sonier adorned the CF uniform to become a CIC (cadet instructor cadre) officer and continued to dedicate 21 years to the cadet program, until she retired in 2005. Throughout that time, in her various leadership roles, including Corps Commanding Officer, she lead and inspired many young girls to set their goals high and not give up. While leading corps in the evenings, Sonier pursued a career in education and has been an elementary catholic school principal in a small community in Ontario for the past 11 years. She got involved in the program that fateful day in August and has never looked back.
Major Ruby Brydges, who recently retired from a 36-year military career, also got her start in cadets in Manitoba, back in 1976 at the 2520 RCACC (Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps). She also rose to the challenges and excelled at her corps. In fact, she was presented the Magnacca sword that was, at the time, awarded to the best artillery cadet corps commander. As a musician, she got to hone her musical skills as part of the pipes and drums band that she and two other pipers helped form at the corps. Later, her passion for music opened the doors to her joining the 26th Field Regiment Pipes and Drums primary reserve unit. In 2001, after a few years in the reserve unit, she transferred to the regular forces while continuing to pursue her qualifications in logistics and accounting. She rose to the position of senior analyst at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. To this day, Brydges remains involved with the cadet program as an active member on the Army Cadet League of Canada’s Board of Directors. She continues with her love of music as an active member of the South Alberta Pipes and Drums.
Brydges also states that her time in cadets helped build her confidence and gave her the groundwork for a successful career. Being a cadet also taught her the principles of leadership, which she continues to apply every day, as well as being self-sufficient and to never compromise her integrity. The cadet program enforces strong values, lessons learned and life-changing challenges, ensuring that doors to new paths continue to open.
Since 1975, young female cadets have been excelling in all fields of training in the Army Cadet program. Whether that is in marksmanship, biathlon, music, etc., more and more girls are excelling and receiving many awards. In fact, since 2005, when the Army Cadet League of Canada introduced its Top Cadet of Canada award, 7 of the 13 finalists have been girls. More and more female cadets are also taking on further challenges such as joining the elite Army Cadet Parachute Course (which is the same as the CAF basic parachutist course), which is offered annually to only 50 Army Cadet candidates. Almost every year, since the early 1980s, a handful of girls get their wings pinned on their chest alongside the boys, and in some cases, have finished top of their class. One of the very strong principles of this youth program is that all cadets are treated equally, regardless of race, gender, religion, etc., allowing all members to grow and learn with and from each other.
The cadet program is designed to benefit all youth in Canada. The lives of youth involved with the Army Cadet Program are enriched with values, life lessons, building friendships, self confidence, and offers experiences one could never imagine. It is a ‘wonderful thing’ that girls and boys alike are being given the opportunity to learn such valuable life lessons together and build a bright future. These are our leaders of tomorrow.