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Queen's York Rangers cadets have long and storied history

In this week's Remember This, History Hounds wraps up his series on the Queen's York Ranger with a focus on the cadet program

This is the third and final article in a series on the Queen’s York Rangers, with a focus on the Cadet program. In the future, I plan to do an article on the regimental band. 

The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) R.C.A.C. is a Canadian Army Primary Reserve Royal Canadian Armoured Corps regiment based in Toronto and Aurora. The regiment is part of 4th Canadian Division's 32 Canadian Brigade Group. 

The regiment consists of one reconnaissance squadron (D Sqn), and a Headquarters and Training Squadron. The regimental family also includes The Queen's York Rangers Band (volunteer), along with two Royal Canadian Army Cadets corps and a Royal Canadian Air Force Cadet squadron. This will be our focus today.

The Royal Canadian Army Cadets (RCAC) are a national Canadian youth program that falls under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Armed Forces and the civilian Army Cadet League of Canada. The program is administered under the authority of the National Defence Act and administered by the Canadian Armed Forces and funded through the Department of National Defence. 

The civilian partner of the Royal Canadian Army Cadets, the Army Cadet League of Canada, also ensures financial, accommodations and transportation support for RCAC programs and services at the community level.

In addition, many of the Royal Canadian Army Cadet corps receive logistical assistance and administrative support from their affiliated Regular Force or Reserve Force unit.

While our cadets wear the badges and accoutrements of their affiliated units, they are not members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

There exists a rich history of drill associations dating back to their first authorization in 1861.  The Royal Canadian Army Cadets remain Canada's oldest youth program.

I was surprised to learn there are more than 18,920 army cadets in about 429 corps that span the entire country.

Along with the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets and Royal Canadian Air Cadets, they form our largest federally funded youth program, and they are known as the Canadian Cadet Organization.

One of the goals of the Royal Canadian Army Cadets is to provide active and responsible members within their respective communities.

There are several similar organizations around the world.  In the United States there are the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, in the United Kingdom the Army Cadet Force and in Australia the Australian Army Cadets.

The Royal Canadian Army Cadets (RCAC) can trace their history back to 1861 and the creation of drill associations or militia companies, predating our Confederation by about six years. These early militia companies and drill associations at the time were not actual cadet corps but were instead militia sub-units formed as part of educational and other public institutions.

 In an earlier article on Newmarket Today I examined the school-based corps that existed in the area.  

At that time, enrolment was limited to men between the ages of 13 and 60. The ‘drill’ served the role of providing parade square and discipline exercise but was an essential skill necessary for the defence of the Colony. The American Civil War and the threat of the Fenian Raids were key motivators in their creation in Upper and Lower Canada.

In 1866, when the Fenians were threatening Ontario, the Upper Canada College Rifle Company was called back to active service, along with its parent regiment. While the regiment marched to Ridgeway to confront the Fenian invaders, the UCC Rifle Company guarded the port, armouries, and government buildings in Toronto. 

For this deed, the student company would proudly carry the battle honour “FENIAN RAID 1865-66” on its drums and colours to present day. The students in the battalion who had stood guard also were entitled to receive the Canadian General Service Medal, with their names inscribed on the medal’s edge and the “Fenian Raid 1866” bar on its red and white striped ribbon. I included a photograph of those medals in part two of the series.

Trinity College Volunteer Rifle Company was formed on June 1, 1861, in Port Hope. Bishop’s College Drill Association was formed in Lennoxville, Que., on Dec. 6, 1861. Another 14 of the early Drill Associations or Rifle Companies stood up in Ontario and Quebec. 

Canada's oldest continuously active cadet corps is No. 2 Bishop's College School Cadet Corps in Lennoxville, Que. (Nov. 1879), and No. 7 Royal Canadian Army Cadets in St. Thomas, Ont. (Feb. 1880), both having their roots to the previous drill associations.

In 1904, the allocation of numbers to cadet corps was re-instituted and the Quarterly Militia List was corrected to April 1, 1904, listing the Cadet Organizations from 1 to 104. The earliest date of organization shown was Nov. 28, 1879, just four months after Militia General Order 18 issued July 25, 1879, which allowed the formations of 74 Associations for Drill in Educational Institutions for young men. 

These cadets were taught drill and marksmanship but were not required to be employed in active service. The 74 associations included 34 in Ontario, 24 in Québec, 13 in the Maritimes, two in Manitoba, and one in British Columbia.

So where did the term "cadet corps" originate? There appears to be a bit of a debate as historians believe it was first used in 1898, right here in Ontario, part of a legislative provision that stated that the corps' instructors would be members of the local school teaching staff, and not drawn from the local militia unit.

The Northwest Campaign during the Riel Rebellion of 1885 would serve to increase local support, allowing the issuing of uniforms, weapons and other equipment to schools that were providing military training.

The first authority for cadet instructors to hold rank within the militia was established by a Special General Order issued Dec. 21, 1903. The appointment was 2nd Lieutenant, and the officer was permitted to retain the rank only if he remained an instructor and the cadet corps remained efficient.

Then on May 1, 1909, a cadre of commissioned officers, as a Corps of School Cadet Instructors was established. It was made up of qualified male school teachers. The Corps were reorganized on Jan. 1, 1924, now designated as the Cadet Services of Canada, its intention was that the Corps would form a component of the Canadian Army Non-Permanent Active Militia. It was to become the forerunner of the current Cadet Instructor Cadre.

In 1910, Sir Donald Alexander Smith, known by historians as Lord Strathcona, the Canadian High Commissioner to Britain, would create a Dominion Government trust for the sum of approximately $500,000, his aim being to inspire good citizenship and patriotism through physical training, rifle shooting, and military drill. He is remembered today with the Lord Strathcona Medal, awarded to a cadet in each corps and squadron who best exemplifies the qualities of being a cadet.

Approximately 40,000 former cadets served in His Majesty's forces during the First World War. By the end of the war, there were approximately 64,000 boys enrolled in army cadet corps across Canada.

Then in 1968, with the integration of the Canadian Armed Forces, the officer cadre was re-designated as the Cadet Instructors List, a sub-component of the Reserve Force of the Canadian Armed Forces. In July 1994, it was re-named the Cadet Instructor Cadre.

In 2009, the Reserve Force sub-component was re-named the Cadet Organization Administration and Training Service, including the CIC Branch and the former members of the Primary Reserve and Regular Forces who retained their previous branch affiliation while serving the Cadet Organization.

During the 20 years that followed the end of the First World War, the cadet training program came to a standstill. While many local corps would survive, the Great Depression and a general lack of public interest would result in the cancellation of the uniform grant for army cadets in 1931. The instructional grant for 12 and 13-year-olds was also cancelled in 1934. 

The beginning of the Second World War brought with it a renewed public interest in the cadet training. Many cadet corps were raised in high schools across the country.

In 1942, in recognition of the significant contribution made by former cadets to the ongoing war effort, His Majesty King George VI granted the Royal prefix to the Canadian Army Cadets, giving it the title of the Royal Canadian Army Cadets. The Royal prefix would also honour the Sea Cadets. It was not until 1953 that the Air cadets would be given the Royal prefix by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. 

Amazingly, it has been estimated that nearly 230,000 former army cadets had served in the forces during the Second World War.

After 1945, quotas were imposed, which effectively resulted in the reduction of Canada’s total cadet membership to approximately 75,000 members. Many of the closed corps, those which had membership restricted to boys in schools, were disbanded; some of them became open corps, training in local Militia armouries or in Legion halls, while others acquired their own buildings.

The Korean War would again bring about a surge among open corps in the early 1950s. Many school corps moved to armouries and drill halls. Regular Force members, many of whom had served in Korea, would staff the Area Cadet Offices managing their local corps and summer camps.

In 1968, there was the unification of the Canadian Forces, resulting in the amalgamation of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, and the Royal Canadian Air Force into one service: the Canadian Armed Forces. This would bring about several changes in the Army Cadet world:

  • Under the Queen's Regulations and Orders for the Canadian Forces (QR&O), Sea and Air Cadet commissioned officers were brought under the single service control of the Canadian Forces and it standardized the three Cadet Organizations.
  • A directorate of cadets was established in Ottawa, at the Department of National Defence headquarters, to set policy and coordinate the activities of the Sea, Army and Air Cadet Organizations.
  • The Army Cadet League of Canada was formed in 1971 to provide the Royal Canadian Army Cadets with the same civilian and Canadian Armed Forces partnership structure that had been enjoyed by the Sea Cadets and the Air Cadets through their long-established Navy League and the Air Cadet League designations.
  • Officers of the Cadet Services of Canada, The Royal Canadian Sea Cadets and former Royal Canadian Air Force Reserve Cadet Instructors were consolidated into the Cadet Instructor List, which was redesignated the Cadet Instructor Cadre in July 1994.
  • The Army Cadet League's Arms, Supporters, Flag and Badge were registered with the Canadian Heraldic Authority on March 31, 1995.

Female cadets had been unofficial participants in cadet training almost from the very beginning of cadets.

Shortly after the Highland Cadet Corps was formed at the Guelph Grammar School in 1882, an all-female cadet company called the Daughters of the Regiment was initiated. The Canadian Army provided no support for training or uniforms for the all-female cadet company. In addition, females were prohibited from attending summer training at camps.

On July 30, 1975, the Parliament of Canada amended the relevant legislation, changing the word "boys" to "persons", therefore permitting females to become members of the Royal Canadian Army Cadets. Henceforth, females became full participants in the cadet branch. 

The biggest change was seen at the summer training program: what had been for many decades an exclusively male environment changed dramatically at local corps and at Army Cadet Summer Training Centres. I am told that today males and females are given equal opportunity to participate in all Royal Canadian Army Cadet corps-level functions.

In 2004, the Cadets marked the 125th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Army Cadets program. The Army Cadet League of Canada issued a 125th Anniversary pin to be worn by the approximately 25,000+ army cadets across the country at the time. Canada Post honoured the cadets with a stamp that was unveiled in Ottawa in March 2004 and several parades were held to honour the century-and-a-quarter of cadets across Canada.

The original Royal Banner was retired during a final battalion parade on Aug. 19, 2004, and a new Royal Banner was paraded in front of approximately 1,500 cadets and 2,000 members of the audience. 

Growing up I had many friends who were members of the Cadets. In the preparation for this article, I was lucky enough to find a card with the official unit motto of Pristinae Virtutis Memoir, which translates as "Remembering their glories in former days". Among its own members and those of other regiments, the unit is often referred to as the Rangers. The name is often abbreviated as the QY Rang, and sometimes pronounced "K'why Rang".

We have come to the end of part three of my look at the Queen’s York Rangers. I will write a separate article on the Regiment and its associated Band soon. I can’t remember a parade in Newmarket and area that did not feature a Cadet presence and the pride with which they moved along the route inspired.

Sources: The History of the Army Cadet Online; The Army League of Canada; Army Cadet League of Canada; List of Civilian Organizations with the Title Royal", Canadian Heritage Portfolio; Government of Canada; Arms, Supporters, Flag and Badge Online; The National Cadet Honours and Awards; Cadet Administrative Training Orders 13-16 (Annex C); Canadian Cadet Organizations; RCAC Unit Directory; Army Cadet League of Canada Website; Royal Canadian Army Cadets History – Army Cadet League of Canada; The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) (RCAC) Online; The Queen's York Rangers: An Historic Regiment by Stewart H. Bull (1984); Remembering Their Gallantry in Former Years – A History of the Queen’s York Rangers by David Schimmelpenninck Van Der Oye; Stories of Newmarket – An Old Ontario Town by Robert Terence Carter; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; History of the York Rangers by Captain A. T. Hunter (1913); Newmarket Era


Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years. He writes a weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Newmarket Today, conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, and leads local oral history interviews.