By Rob Gill, Executive Director, Army Cadet League of Canada
There are over 18,000 Army Cadets across the country, training in over 425 Army Cadet Corps, based in some 300 municipalities across the country. From St John’s to Victoria to Arctic Bay and hundreds of places in between. Some places are extremely easy to find, while others are a little more remote. How many people can find Upper Island Cove, NL or Cross Lake, MB on a map? While each of these Cadet Corps is unique, each instills identical values, while also maintaining their sense of community.
I have been involved with this program from some 30 years. Army Cadet, Cadet Instructor Cadre officer, Army Cadet League of Canada member and now Executive Director. I have been extremely fortunate during my time with, and working for the program, to have visited every province in Canada. No matter where I go, I run into present cadets, former cadets and supporters of cadets. While each is from a different region of the country, everyone acknowledges and recognizes the sense of belonging to a community. This community feeling cannot be taught in a lecture room, and read in a manual.
It is something that can only be learned through experience.
The Army Cadet program’s lineage goes back to 1861 with the creation of Drill Associations. Based out of schools in Upper and Lower Canada, these associations taught all men between the ages of 13 and 60 drill, and marksmanship. In 1879, a clear distinction between cadets and the militia was made, ensuring that cadets would not see active service. The birth of several Militia Regiments and the earliest Army Cadet Corps are directly tied together, raised through community support and community funds. The longest serving Army Cadet Corps is #2 in Lennoxville, Quebec and is still active today.
I enjoyed my time as an Army Cadet at 3018 in Orleans, Ontario. During that time, I was fortunate to meet fellow Army Cadets first, from the Ottawa area, to eventually other regions of Ontario, Canada and even overseas. I followed that as a Cadet Instructor Cadre officer and then League member, meeting and making more friends who all had the Army Cadet program in common. Each encounter reinforced that we all came from extremely different communities, yet had so much in common. While extremely proud of the Corps that I have worked with over the years, during my travels I have heard stories and personally witnessed the same pride across the country.
A trip to New Brunswick saw me walk in unannounced to visit 1691 Saint John, Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps. Some 60 cadets were on parade and the Corps’ CO, Capt Dickson gleamed with pride as she told me the Corps recent successes. I met a man in Digby, NS who was a cadet at 1714 Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps in Annapolis Royal, NS who recounted his memories of Camp Argonaut and with the Corps. While he is still years away from being a parent of a cadet, he plans on being one when his daughter is of age. While in Saskatoon I met a young lady who remembered, and missed her time as a cadet and her summers at Camp Vernon. On a guided tour of Winnipeg, a local Army Cadet League Director took me to the home of 553 Tommy Prince, MM, Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps. Despite the area’s social and economic challenges, the community recognizes the program’s positive development of its youth and supports it as best that it can. Its cadets are among some of the best and proudest in the country.
Communities are not bound by race, or religion, or even municipal boundaries. Our Cadet Corps today are a reflection of that. Each Corps is supported by a community, comprised of the community and is a reflection of that community. The community provides instructors, volunteers, financial support and youth. The community remains just as important to cadets today, as it was in 1861.
No matter where I visit in Canada, I always get the same sensation of community, the same sense of pride and the same sense of belonging. Despite appearing to be very different, we are all the same. You will not learn this through any manual, or in any lecture. It must be experienced, and I am thankful that the Army Cadet program has allowed me to experience it.
The Army Cadet League of Canada is a civilian, volunteer lead, non-profit organization that works in partnership with the Canadian Armed Forces to support the Royal Canadian Army Cadet program. The League is the supervisory sponsor for more than 425 cadet corps across Canada. With the aid of each branch office, the League ensures financial, accommodations and transportation support for programs and services not provided by the Department of National Defence.