The Early Days – 1940’s
To understand why and how the Air Cadet League of Canada came into being, it is necessary to recall the early days of World War II. France had fallen, the Low Countries had been invaded, and Britain was under heavy attack from the air. The critical need was for planes and more planes – and for trained young men to fly them in defense of freedom. Against this background there grew in Canada the idea of a select corps of teen-aged youths who would devote some of their spare time to preparing for the day when they would take their places as aircrew in the ranks of the RCAF.
In 1940, the Minister of National Defence for Air, Charles G. Power, who was very much aware of the need for this type of Air Cadet training, called in a group of influential civilians and asked them to set up a country-wide voluntary organization to sponsor and develop this growing movement. The response was immediate, and a civilian organization was soon created to work on a partnership basis with the RCAF. As it later developed, this partnership was to be the main reason for the striking success of the Air Cadet Movement in Canada. On the 19th of November, 1940, Order-in-Council PC 6647 was passed. This Order authorized the organization of Air Cadet Corps: Junior Air Cadet Corps for boys 12-14 and Seniors Corps for those 15-18. On April 9, 1941, the Secretary of State of Canada by Letters Patent officially granted a Charter establishing the Air Cadet League of Canada, under Part II of the Companies Act 1934 and authorizing it to operate as a charitable, non-profit corporation. It also authorized the League “to provide for the establishment of branches of the Corporation in all parts of Canada.” This Charter was applied for by Air Marshall William (Billy) Bishop, George B. Foster and Hugh P. Illsley.
An administrative headquarters was established in Ottawa, and the stage was set for a concentrated appeal for sponsors and volunteers throughout the provinces. In the early part of 1941, a national board of key men was chosen and it met for the first time in Ottawa on June 2nd of that year. One of the first acts of the national directors was to appoint an outstanding Chairman in each of nine provinces. The Provincial Chairmen in turn set up their committees and these gentlemen traveled widely, talking to public minded citizens and recruiting local sponsorship for the squadrons. The organization of squadrons proceeded through the fall months of 1941 and by the end of the year there were 79 squadrons affiliated across the country. By May, 1942, there were 135 squadrons and 10,000 cadets; and a year later, 315 squadrons with 23,000 cadets.
The primary purpose of the League during its formative years was a military one, but its founders were also thinking in terms of the long-range benefits of Air Cadet training. They realized that through voluntary study, the cadets could improve their knowledge of aviation and increase their usefulness to the community. Through participation in supervised squadron activities, they would find opportunities to develop those qualities usually associated with good citizenship. It was the character-building aspect of Air Cadet training which appealed most strongly to the youth leaders of the country. Service Clubs, Educators, Boards of Trade and Veterans Groups offered their services to the League, not only as a contribution to the war effort but also as a means of assisting the youth of the country along the road to good citizenship.
In September of 1944, the Movement reached the peak war strength of 374 squadrons, over 29,000 cadets, 1750 officers and instructors and another 2,000 civilians who supplied financial and other support. It is unfortunate that during the early years accurate records were not kept of the number of Cadets who joined the fighting forces. It has been established, however, that during one brief period, between October, 1943 and June, 1944 over 3,000 Air Cadets graduated into the wartime RCAF and more than a score of them were subsequently decorated for gallantry. This was a proud record and one which provided tangible proof of the value of wartime Air Cadet Training.
The Post-War Period – 1946 to 1968
Immediately following the close of the war, there was a natural lessening of interest in all Cadet Activities throughout Canada. Many Squadrons that had been set up “for the duration” were disbanded and the movement settled down to a low point of approximately 11,000 cadets in 155 squadrons.
The peacetime story of the Air Cadet Movement is perhaps even more impressive than its wartime history. Commencing in late 1944, the League planned and carried out its peacetime conversion with the same vigor that it tackled its wartime responsibilities. Probably the most important job facing the Air Cadet Movement in 1945 was to provide an incentive, which would rival in its appeal the wartime goal of graduation into the RCAF. The answer was found in a variety of awards for outstanding proficiency and loyalty to the squadrons. From the standpoint of popularity, perhaps the outstanding innovation was the summer camps held at RCAF Stations. In 1946, the RCAF introduced Flying Scholarship courses on powered light aircraft through civilian flying clubs for senior cadets, a development, which gave added importance to the movement. Since the scheme began, some 14,361 Air Cadets (1997) have completed their power flying scholarship courses, in most cases to the Private Pilot level, and can now proudly call themselves pilots. This training has been completed at little or no cost to either the cadets or to their families. Selection of Air Cadets for flying scholarships is done in an orderly way. The candidates must be physically fit, at least 17 years old, and be undergoing Level 4 of Air Cadet training. In addition, they must pass a qualifying exam and pass through a rigorous Canadian Forces/League selection procedure at Local, Provincial and National levels.
Also in 1946, the Government approved a maximum establishment for the post-war period of 15,000 Cadets across Canada. Simultaneously, a new peacetime program for Air Cadets, based on a combination of aviation and citizenship training, was put into effect by the League and the RCAF.
Early in 1949, the Movement spread to the new province of Newfoundland where six active squadrons, all supported by strong civilian committees, were in operation only a few weeks after Confederation. A year later, the need for an increase in the maximum establishment was recognized by the Government and the ceiling was raised to 22,500 Cadets.
As the League paused to observe its tenth Anniversary in 1951, it could point to a fine record of service to Canada. Some 65,000 young Canadians had worn the Air Cadet uniform and participated in the training program. In 1961, as the League celebrated its coming of age, more than 150,000 Air Cadets had received training in the squadrons now numbering 332. If all the Cadets who had received Air Cadet training to that time could have been paraded at one time in column of route, the parade would have stretched for a distance of 35 miles. In view of a strong demand for new units at the time and to provide for gradual expansion, authority was granted in 1972 for an increase by stages to the present entitlement of 28,000 Air Cadets.
The Post-Unification Years – 1968-2000
On February 1, 1968, the Air Cadet League of Canada lost its original partner – the Royal Canadian Air Force – and unification brought about a new partnership with the Canadian Forces.
In 1969, a Directorate of Cadets was formed at National Defence Headquarters to set policy and coordinate the activities of the three cadet movements. This office now functions under the Director General Reserves and Cadets. The day-to-day control of Air Cadets is vested in six military regions affiliated with the functional Commands of the Canadian Forces with the functional commander also serving as Regional Commander: Atlantic Region – Maritime Atlantic; Eastern Region – Land Forces Quebec Area; Central Region – Canadian Forces Training System; Prairie Region – Canadian Air Division; Pacific Region – Maritime Pacific; and Northern Region Headquarters.
Two significant changes occurred in Air Cadets during this period. After several years of “unofficial” participation in squadron-operated “Girl Flights”, the official participation of girls in the Air Cadet Movement was approved by Parliament on July 30, 1975. At the present time in the late 90s, girls make up on average about 30% of the strength in Air Cadet Squadrons across the country. Following the uniform changes that had taken place in the CF, Air Cadets changed to green uniforms in the 1970s, and then reverted back to blue uniforms in the 1990s.
From the time the Air Cadet League of Canada came into being in April 1941 until the latter part of the 90s, close to one million young Canadians have participated in the Air Cadet training program. Today, it is estimated that some 50,000 Canadians are involved in some way with the Air Cadet Movement.
The “Air in Air Cadets”
The challenge faced by the Air Cadet leaders of the sixties was to revitalize the Movement and establish its credibility with a new and very aware generation of young Canadians. In the early years of Air Cadets, the RCAF had operated an impressive number of bases scattered across the country and there was no shortage of small aircraft, especially those in the “Expediter” or “Dakota” categories, which were well suited to providing familiarization flying opportunities for Air Cadets. However, with the coming of Service unification in Canada, the closing of many air bases and amalgamation of others – and with the trend to larger, long-range aircraft – the situation changed rather drastically. By the mid-1960’s, it had become obvious that Air Cadets were no longer being provided with sufficient opportunities to experience the thrill of flight. Faced with the problem of maintaining Cadet Interest, the Air Cadet League decided to “put the air back in Air Cadets”.
In the summer of 1965, the League’s western members launched an experimental gliding program in conjunction with the Air Cadet Summer Camp at Penhold, Alberta. From that small beginning, gliding has developed into a major project and has built up to the point where the Air Cadet Movement carries out an average of more than 50,000 glider flights each year. In 1967, a glider procurement program was launched by the Air Cadet League with the goal of building up our own fleet of gliders for use not only at Summer Camps, but during the spring and fall gliding seasons as well.
The Air Cadet flying and gliding program was given a terrific shot in the arm in late 1972 when the League was authorized to purchase at a nominal price, surplus L-19 aircraft being released by the Canadian Forces. These were obtained through Crown Assets Disposal Corporation and continue to play an effective role, along with the League’s other aircraft, in what is the largest gliding program in the world.
The current insured value of Gliders and Tow Aircraft is $4,782,000. The Gliding Program is a cooperative partnership effort between CF and the Air Cadet League and is conducted in accordance with the terms of a renewable five year Memorandum of Agreement (MOA).
The aim of the glider familiarization program is to provide each Air Cadet with at least one familiarization flight per year. The glider familiarization programs are conducted on weekends from March to June and from September to November at over 60 locations across Canada, ranging from Transport Canada airports to approved grass operating areas. During the summer, familiarization flying is also provided for Air Cadets attending courses at Cadet Summer Training Centres co-located with Regional Air Cadet Gliding Schools. In addition to flying at the gliding sites, the Air Cadets have the opportunity to participate as glider ground crew, positioning the gliders for take-off and retrieving them after landing. The Air Cadet League provides administrative and recreational support at the gliding sites in order to reduce the workload of the flying staff and the Squadron Supervisors.
The six-week summer Regional Gliding School course provides an opportunity for 320 Air Cadets to obtain a Transport Canada Glider Pilot licence. The candidate selection process is the same as that for the Power Flying Scholarship Program, except that the minimum age for a Glider Pilot is 16 years. Cadet Instructor Cadre (CIC) Officers qualified as Glider Instructors or Glider Tow Pilots comprise the flying training staff. Thirty-two years after the start of the gliding program, nearly 10,000 Air Cadets (9,920 in 1997) had completed the glider pilot course. Since 1983, 7,230 licensed glider Pilots have graduated for an average of 301 annually.
The Air Cadet Gliding Program involves the efforts of many people at all levels: the Directorate of Cadets and the National Air Technical Authority at NDHQ, Air Cadet League Headquarters in Ottawa, Regional CIC and Air Cadet staff personnel, and of course, the many Air Cadet League volunteers in the provinces and territories. Figures received on a regular basis from Transport Canada and the Airline Pilots Association, Canada reveal that one out of every five Private Pilots in Canada at the present time is an ex-Air Cadet and 67 percent of the Commercial/Airline Pilots flying today got their start in Air Cadets. No statistics are available on how many Air Cadets join the Canadian Forces; however, it is estimated that 28% of the flying, technical and administrative members serving in the Air Force today had some form of Air Cadet training. Even more important, the failure rate among ex-Air Cadets joining the service is almost nil.
Since the Air Cadet League of Canada came into being in April 1941, close to one million young Canadians have participated in the training program. It is estimated that in one way or another, 500,000 Canadians are involved in the Air Cadet Movement today.