The Origins Of The Air Cadet League

Roots in WWII

To understand why and how the Air Cadet League of Canada came into being, it is necessary to recall the early days of World War II. France had fallen, the Low Countries had been invaded, and Britain was under heavy attack from the air. The critical need was for planes and more planes – and for trained young men to fly them in defense of freedom. Against this background there grew in Canada the idea of a select corps of teen-aged youths who would devote some of their spare time to preparing for the day when they would take their places as aircrew in the ranks of the RCAF.

In 1940, the Minister of National Defence for Air, Charles G. Power, who was very much aware of the need for this type of Air Cadet training, called in a group of influential civilians and asked them to set up a country-wide voluntary organization to sponsor and develop this growing movement. The response was immediate, and a civilian organization was soon created to work on a partnership basis with the RCAF. As it later developed, this partnership was to be the main reason for the striking success of the Air Cadet Movement in Canada. On the 19th of November, 1940, Order-in-Council PC 6647 was passed. This Order authorized the organization of Air Cadet Corps: Junior Air Cadet Corps for boys 12-14 and Seniors Corps for those 15-18. On April 9, 1941, the Secretary of State of Canada by Letters Patent officially granted a Charter establishing the Air Cadet League of Canada, under Part II of the Companies Act 1934 and authorizing it to operate as a charitable, non-profit corporation.

An administrative headquarters was established in Ottawa, and the stage was set for a concentrated appeal for sponsors and volunteers throughout the provinces. In the early part of 1941, a national board of key men was chosen and it met for the first time in Ottawa on June 2nd of that year. One of the first acts of the national directors was to appoint an outstanding Chairman in each of nine provinces. The Provincial Chairmen in turn set up their committees and these gentlemen traveled widely, talking to public minded citizens and recruiting local sponsorship for the squadrons. The organization of squadrons proceeded through the fall months of 1941 and by the end of the year there were 79 squadrons affiliated across the country. By May, 1942, there were 135 squadrons and 10,000 cadets; and a year later, 315 squadrons with 23,000 cadets.

The Post War Period

Immediately following the close of the war, there was a natural lessening of interest in all Cadet Activities throughout Canada. Many Squadrons that had been set up “for the duration” were disbanded and the movement settled down to a low point of approximately 11,000 cadets in 155 squadrons.

The peacetime story of the Air Cadet Movement is perhaps even more impressive than its wartime history. Commencing in late 1944, the League planned and carried out its peacetime conversion with the same vigor that it tackled its wartime responsibilities. Probably the most important job facing the Air Cadet Movement in 1945 was to provide an incentive, which would rival in its appeal the wartime goal of graduation into the RCAF. The answer was found in a variety of awards for outstanding proficiency and loyalty to the squadrons. From the standpoint of popularity, perhaps the outstanding innovation was the summer camps held at RCAF Stations. In 1946, the RCAF introduced Flying Scholarship courses on powered light aircraft through civilian flying clubs for senior cadets, a development, which gave added importance to the movement. Since the scheme began, some 14,361 Air Cadets (1997) have completed their power flying scholarship courses, in most cases to the Private Pilot level, and can now proudly call themselves pilots.

From the time the Air Cadet League of Canada came into being in April 1941 until the latter part of the 90s, close to one million young Canadians have participated in the Air Cadet training program. Today, it is estimated that some 50,000 Canadians are involved in some way with the Air Cadet Movement.


810 Grant McConachie Squadron, Edmonton was formed on October 1, 1971 and celebrated our 50th Anniversary in October 2021.