For more than 80 years, 94 Newmarket Optimist Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron has taught local teens the benefits of integrity, teamwork and leadership through “youth leading youth.”
Founded Dec. 1, 1941 in Stouffville, 94 Squadron was originally staffed by Air Force officers that were stationed at the nearby Camp Borden, which itself had been established 25 years prior as major training centre of Canadian Expeditionary Force battalions during the First World War. The purpose of the organization was to train teenage boys with trades and military abilities, grooming them for an eventual career in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Following the end of the Second World War, demand for the group dropped and staff grew scarce, resulting in 94 Squadron’s closure — like many others across Canada — in the early 1950s. However, need for an Air Cadet Squadron soon regrew, and in 1960, 94 Squadron reformed, receiving its charter from the Air Cadet League of Canada on December of that year.
Funds for the group, now known as the 94 Stouffville Squadron, were raised by founding staff, many of whom were police officers in the area. 94 Stouffville Squadron officially commenced in 1961, with an enrolment of 31 cadets.
Responding to growing demand in Newmarket, the Squadron relocated in 1964 and became the 94 Newmarket-Stouffville Squadron. Initially holding training in the Newmarket Plaza, they later moved to Newmarket High School and eventually an unused gas station at corner of Srigley and Leslie streets, which facilitated an increased focus on air maintenance.
By the time 94 Squadron made the move to Old York Manor on Yonge Street in 1971, they were going by the name 94 Newmarket Squadron.
In 1975, the Newmarket Optimist Hall was built and the Squadron relocated again. To this day, the Optimist Hall remains its local headquarters, though the group often parades out of the larger Newmarket High School.
Membership today sits at approximately 140, serving boys and girls aged 12 to 18 in Newmarket, Aurora, East Gwillimbury, Bradford, Keswick, and surrounding areas.
Cadets meet every Wednesday night from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. between September and June at Newmarket High School, with optional training on Monday nights and one weekend activity each month. Summer training courses on topics such as aviation, survival, marksmanship, and sports & fitness are also available.
Classes offered to local cadets are diverse, including effective speaking, aircraft identification, aircrew survival, and radio communication. 94 Squadron also offers a drill team, pipes and drums band, marksmanship team, flying scholarship program, and effective speaking team clubs.
Canada-wide, more than 26,000 young Canadians currently participate in Air Cadet programs.
“We like to say there’s something in the cadet program for everyone,” said Andrew Wilson, commanding officer of the 94 Newmarket Optimist Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron. “Because our program works with youth as young as 12, it starts off with the basics like principles of flight and how airplanes fly, and goes all the way to the more comprehensive and complex aspects of meteorology and aerospace.”
Members of 94 Squadron are “well-travelled,” said Wilson, with the group going on international trips for March break and participating in international exchanges pre-COVID.
Locally, 94 Squadron adheres to their community service commitment by canvassing and collecting donations for Newmarket’s Royal Canadian Legion each Remembrance Day, attending their cemetery service, and marching in their parade. Members of the squadron’s pipes and drums band have also played music for local retirement homes, and the group has held community cleanup events at local parks.
For Aidan McKinley, squadron warrant officer 1st class, and Jonathan Cheung, warrant officer 2nd class, 94 Squadron has provided valuable education, experience and self-confidence.
“Cadets has benefited me in a lot of ways,” said McKinley, who joined Cadets at age 12 and currently holds the organization’s highest rank. “I've met a lot of amazing people and made contacts with quite a few members of the Canadian Armed Forces. It also looks great on a resume because it shows you can handle a leadership role and are often good at interacting with others, such as the public.”
“Overall, joining cadets has benefited me a lot. I was a quiet child and through Cadets I gained confidence,” said Cheung, who has been selected to take the prestigious power pilot training course this summer. “I got to partake in so many different things, such as teaching and giving speeches in the Effective Speaking team. I got to learn more about aviation, attending the ground school on top of the regular aviation lessons. I got to help fuel a passion for aviation.”
The next Air Cadet recruitment night will be held Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the Optimist Club of Newmarket (55 Forhan Ave). Those interested can pre-register online.