As the daughter of two parents who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) I have a special interest in the military. My father served his country for twenty years, and today he still says his only regret was retiring to a civilian life. Both my parents have regaled me with stories of their time in the service, as long as I can remember. They’ve also told me the best education and training available came from Canada’s military.
For medical reasons I could not serve in the military. Instead, after I graduated high school I was given the opportunity to work at Canada’s last surviving federal hospital for veterans. I had not been fortunate enough to know my own grandparents, but at the hospital I had dozens of grandfathers, and a few grandmothers too – each with their own quirks and life stories from war time and afterwards. The residents I cared for taught me a great deal about life, about surviving the horrors of war and the indignities of illnesses that progressively rob a person of abilities, autonomy and eventually even of life.
A part-time job that was supposed to help me earn a little money while in school and give me a reference to put on my resume, my time at Ste. Anne’s Hospital changed my life. I met people there who introduced me to new ways of thinking, and who shaped the path my life would take for decades to come. I changed the focus of my studies, I transferred to a different college, and I completed a program of studies in the field of gerontology. That too, changed my life and taught me things that went far beyond the boundaries of the classroom.
Sadly, the hospital is now being sold to the province of Quebec at a time when Canada’s first veterans ombudsman – a distinguished serviceman who called the shots as he saw them – is facing termination because he did his job. More than one veteran is concerned this transfer to provincial jurisdiction will negatively impact the care and services provided to veterans living at Ste. Anne’s Hospital. I must admit to being a bit worried too.
For a number of years I thought that part of my life was over, and my connections with the military had faded away. My parents, who served during the Cold War, never wanted to be considered veterans. They had been technicians in the Air Force, not soldiers. They had not seen action. They were proud of their time in the service but that time was over and they were, like the rest of us, ordinary civilians.
My daughters and I became involved in the Guiding movement, but sadly we found resources and personnel to be lacking. Program delivery varied greatly from one part of the city to another, and I was disappointed to discover that a lot of my neighbours weren’t even familiar with the organization. As local units lost both girls and volunteers, my interest in the movement dwindled. My husband had spent some time as an Army Cadet in his own youth, and we considered that this might be the place our daughters could get the kind of experience I had wanted for them.
My oldest joined the Black Watch (RHR of Canada) Cadet Corps 2497 in October of 2009. It was the beginning of a whole new adventure for not just her, but the whole family. We thrill to the music of the bagpipes when we attend her parades and ceremonies. Our younger daughter has been able to begin piping lessons even before she is old enough to join the corps. We have met some very accomplished young people, and been impressed with the leadership and support provided by the unit staff. We have spent hours rummaging through the Regimental Museum, learning about our country’s military past, and revisiting the songs and dances of our Scottish heritage.
We have learned that although not terribly well known in our area, Canada’s Cadet Movement is alive and well. As we do with other areas of our children’s lives, we have taken the time to read through the program guides and to talk about the things our daughter is expected to learn. We appreciate the balance of the cadet program: the focus on citizenship and leadership skills, on fitness, and on awareness of our Canadian Forces past and present.
Cadets Canada offers our young people many things they might not otherwise get to do. It is a uniformed movement with ranks and orders to follow, and the young people are expected to learn to perform a physically demanding drill. But it is also a safe place for them to learn to take on more adult responsibilities, to gain experience leading a group, teaching or public speaking, or facing a personal fear. It is a place for fun and friendship, for rosy red cheeks on a cold winter’s day outside, for learning a new skill and being rewarded for the dedication shown to one’s work. It is a place where young people come together with adults of all ages, and where they learn to both respect them and call them friend.
Text and image © 2010 Kyla Matton. (Except poppy, which is in the public domain.) Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments! If you want to share this piece, please respect the copyright by quoting a brief excerpt and providing the permalink for this entry. Prior permission is required for any use of the image. Thanks!