This article was published in the January 2021 issue of Esprit de Corps magazine.
“Our theme for our 50th Anniversary is to celebrate our volunteers as without them there would be no Army Cadet League of Canada.”
At the conclusion of the Second World War, the population of the Royal Canadian Army Cadets (RCAC’s) exceeded 75,000. By the end of the Korean War, only 50,000 Army Cadets remained on strength. By 1965, through the increasing popularity of television broadcasting, Canadians started witnessing the ill effects the Vietnam War had on our neighbouring country. Canada no longer wanted to send young men to war. The perception of an Army-like training program with young boys in uniforms in the schools, was significantly changing. Most schools started removing “cadet training” from their curriculums, leaving only a handful of committee-based Corps, parading out of armouries across the country. The army cadet population stood at only 12,000 boys.
It was in the mid-60’s that the Colonel Commandant of the Royal Canadian Army Cadets and Cadet Services of Canada, Major-General (retired) Rodger became alarmed at the sharp decline in the Army Cadet population. In studying the approach, of the Royal Canadian Sea and Air Cadets, he understood the advantages gained by the support they received from civilian organizations. These civilian Leagues were better equipped to support a community-based program, free of the school curriculums. The Leagues were in a position to attract distinguished community members, who were themselves graduates of the program, to attract the youth to join Sea or Air Cadets. It was he, who originally conceived the idea of the formation of the Army Cadet League of Canada (ACLC) as it is known today.
During his tenure as Colonel Commandant, Major-General Rodger spearheaded the movement to increase the attraction of youth to the Army Cadet Program. Understanding the benefits of his predecessor’s discovery on a civilian approach to attract cadets, MGen Rodger began to involve past cadets to form a league for Army Cadets. The fact that they could share their positive experiences in the Army Cadet Program and the benefits it gave them to pursue distinguished careers both in military and civilian life made them perfect ambassadors of the program.
With the groundwork done, in 1970, the torch was handed to the newly appointed Colonel Command, Lieutenant-General G Walsh. He, along with lawyers GB Robertson and W Howard, and business executives EG Eikens and JHR Gagnon, founded the Army Cadet League of Canada on April 1st, 1971. Upon it’s introduction, the ACLC was immediately recognized as the supervisory sponsor of the RCAC‘s by the Department of National Defence. While Colonels Commandant spearheaded its foundation, the ACLC is recognized and structured as a civilian not-for-profit corporation, completely independent of DND.
As the ACLC was establishing itself on a national level, the provinces were also being incorporated to the fold. Most of the provincial branches became incorporated in 1971, with the exception of Nova Scotia, Quebec and British Columbia, which were incorporated in 1972. In 1974 it was the Yukon Branch, in 1983 the North West Territories Branch who officially joined the ACLC. It was only in the mid-2000 that the ACLC established another branch in the Northern region of Canada to represent the interests of the cadets in the Territory of Nunavut.
In 1995, the Canadian Heraldic Authority approved the League Heraldic Coat of Arms. The Letters Patent granting Armorial Bearings to The Army Cadet League of Canada were also issued. And it was in 1996, during an official ceremony on Parliament Hill, with government official, high-ranked military officers, Army cadets & ACLC executive officers that the official ACLC flag was unveiled & presented publicly.
Over the years and with society constantly evolving, the Cadet program has needed to adapt in order to remain relevant and continue to benefit the youth of our country. As a supporting partner and supervisory sponsor of the RCAC, the ACLC also had to adapt itself and its approach as well.
Today, it is still the mission of the ACLC to be committed to support the Army Cadets by working in partnership with local communities and the Canadian Armed Forces. Within its structure, the ACLC is the supervisory sponsor for more than four hundred Army cadet corps across Canada. With the aid of each provincial or territorial branches, the League ensures financial, accommodations and transportation support for programs and services not provided by the Department of National Defence to more than 18,000 Army cadets.
In more recent years as the ACLC has continued to stand strong in supporting important events and activities that involve the RCAC and/or its volunteers. Some of the ACLC’s significant accomplishments are:
- 1985 – Lead by the ACLC, HRH Prince Philip, Colonel in Chief of the RCAC presented the RCAC with its Royal Banner, trumpet banner ad pipe banner in Banff, Alberta.
- 2000 – The ACLC has a strong influence on the implementation of Army Cadet “treks”, known today as the Army Cadets Expedition program. Each year, the ACLC continues to provide additional equipment to the cadets participating in these expeditions with destinations throughout Canada and overseas.
- 2002 – Seventy ACLC members and volunteers were presented the Queen’s Golden Jubilee medal and again in 2012 for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
- 2004 – Past ACLC President, Mrs Deborah Craig chairs a Committee in charge of the support the ACLC provided for the 125th anniversary of the RCAC. Their work resulted in, most notably, Canada Post issuing a commemorative stamp and a commemorative pin. That same year the ACLC introduced the Army Cadet Service Medal to recognize continuous meritorious cadet service of at least four years by deserving Army Cadets
- 2005 – The ACLC, along with the Navy League and the Air Cadet League of Canada, signs the Memorandum of Understanding, to help better establish and clarify the roles and responsibilities of the two partners. A revised agreement was issued and signed in 2020
- 2007 – The ACLC created the Volunteer Service Medel continuous and meritorious service of deserving ACLC member
- 2011 – Along with DND, the ACLC establishes and supports the annual Army Cadet Vimy Commemoration Events
- 2016 – Following the unfortunate cancelation of the Army Cadet Exchanges, the ACLC works closely with DND to establish the most recent summer exchange program called the Army Cadet Voyage in History.
Over the years, the ACLC has also established several other awards and scholarships to recognize deserving Army Cadets
The ACLC and its volunteers.
To provide the support required, the ACLC and the Army Cadets depend heavily on parents and community volunteers. Its volunteers and members of all backgrounds, talents and interests are valuable to help make the Army Cadet program a success.
As they become involved at the corps, many volunteers realize the benefits and the influence they could have in the best interest for Army Cadets. It is for that reason that many chose to pursue their involvement and join the executive ranks of the ACLC. It was established early on that the ACLC would conduct its elections of a National Board every two years. One of these elected positions is the one of National President. Starting in 1971 with the Hon. Earl Rowe, a former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario (1963-1968), the ACLC has been led by eighteen National Presidents.
In 1998, Mrs Deborah A. Craig from New Brunswick became the first woman to take the reins in leading the ACLC as National President. To this day, Mrs Craig still volunteers with the ACLC New Brunswick branch. Of her experience during her two-year term leading the ACLC, Mrs Craig shared: “Cadets are worth all the volunteer hours; my privilege to serve.”
During that time, the National office was also entering the modern era where the use of computers and email communication replaced the massive mailings that had been the norm for so many years.
Soon after the end of Mrs. Craig’s term, it was Mr. Gilles Dery, from Quebec, who took over as National President. Starting in 2001, Mr. Dery held the position for four terms, for a total of eight years. As National President it was Mr. Dery’s belief that the Army Cadet Program benefits from having a strong, dynamic civilian organisation, representative of the civilian volunteers, members and parents which can effectively support the Royal Canadian Army Cadets and address ongoing concerns and issues. “I have always been impressed by the quality of the work and the dedication of all our volunteers, especially at the local level. They deserve our gratitude and admiration,” he states.
As the current leader of the ACLC, Mrs Cathy Bach states: “As we start the 50th Anniversary year of the Army Cadet League of Canada, it is my honour and privilege to serve as the current National President of the ACLC following a long list of esteemed presidents before me. “ She adds, “We have an amazing group of folks, from every part of the country, with varied backgrounds that are involved with the 13 branches and the National Board. As the backbone of this fine organization, these dedicated volunteers are in it for the right reason, one we cannot forget – our country’s youth. These are the leaders of tomorrow and well worth our investment in time.”
“Our theme for our 50th Anniversary is to celebrate our volunteers as without them there would be no Army Cadet League of Canada. Our Volunteers are thousands strong. We salute you!”
The positive influence of its members & volunteers within their communities and social circles has made the ACLC what it is today: A successful and well-established organization with the sole purpose of supporting the Army Cadet Program, its corps and its volunteers. To this day, the ACLC stands tall behind its values and continues to fulfill the roles and responsibilities of its partnership with the Canadian Armed Forces in the delivery and support of the outstanding youth leadership program that it is today.