Cadet History - The Cadet Program Story

Since the late 1800s the Canadian Cadet Program has offered valuable training to young Canadians free of charge. Army Cadets first came into existence in the late 1800s as part of a young militia school program with the mandate of training boys over the age of 12 in military skills and drill. During the First World War, the Army Cadet Organization thrived, with more than 64,000 Cadets enrolled, thousands of whom volunteered to serve Canada overseas. Interest in Army Cadets ebbed between the two wars only to be significantly revived during the Second World War as Canadians looked to their youth to serve their country.


“… the time may come when we can do without armies, but it is not thought that the time will ever come when we shall be able to do without the military virtues of courage, loyalty, qualities of leadership, and the spirit of sacrifice and fair play. Those qualities are best taught through experience of discipline, cooperation, and the habit of obedience, all of which are taught to Cadets.”
– from a Provisional School lecture for qualifying Cadet Instructors, Ottawa, Ontario, 1933.


Around the same time, both the Navy and the Air Force took an interest in developing Canada’s young men along traditional military lines. In 1917, the Navy League of Canada established the Boy’s Naval Brigade to encourage young men towards a seafaring career and to provide basic training in citizenship and seamanship. In 1941, the Air Cadet League of Canada was officially incorporated as a voluntary organization with the mandate of working in partnership with the Royal Canadian Air Force to sponsor young men as future aircrew.

In the 1960s, the Canadian Forces underwent a complete reorganization resulting in the unification of its Navy, Army and Air Force. At this time a Directorate of Cadets was established in Ottawa to set policy and to coordinate the activities of the Sea, Army and Air Cadets. The focus of the Cadet Program changed from training future Canadian Forces members to developing community leaders and good citizens.

By the 1970s, administration of the Canadian Cadet Program became standardized across Canada. Other changes occurred around this same time. The Army Cadet League of Canada was officially formed in 1971 to work with the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence in support of Army Cadets. That same year, the Cadet Instructors List (now the Cadet Instructors Cadre) was formed. The first female Cadets were introduced to the program in 1975.

Today, the Cadet Program continues to evolve and adapt to meet the expectations of our changing society. With its emphasis on leadership, physical fitness and citizenship, the Canadian Cadet Program helps young Canadians to become active and engaged members of their communities today and prepares them to become the leaders of tomorrow.

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