Air cadet squadron to bolster ranks or be grounded

MOUNT FOREST – The future of the Mount Forest air cadets squadron is up in the air.

“At this point, I’m planning for next year … and if it comes out differently at the end of June, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” commanding officer Captain Cynthia Comeau told the Community News.

The Mount Forest 895 Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron was notified last November it was being placed on probation because of low participation numbers and a need for more adults to help run the program.

A review in February allowed the program to continue until at least June, pending further assessment.

Membership numbers over recent years have been “fairly low,” said Comeau, who has been the squad’s commanding officer for 1.5 years, and an officer with the squad for the past 12 years.

She assigns much of the blame to COVID-19, in addition to a lack of youth and adult interest in all the program has to offer.

“Our biggest pitfall would be COVID; it really put a damper on retention for us, just having to move to online,” Comeau explained.

(As a recompense for lost air time over the COVID years, the Department of National Defence put the kids up in a C-130 Hercules for a half-hour flight out of London International Airport in 2022.)

There are good signs on the horizon for the squad, however. Though membership descended to just seven children last winter, Comeau said ranks have been bolstered to 20 cadets between 12 and 16 years old. 

Youth can join as young as 12, and would age out at 19. And though presentations are made to children about the Canadian Armed Forces, there’s no active push for those aging out to join.

The Mount Forest squad meets weekly from 6:30 to 9pm on Wednesdays at Wellington Heights Secondary School.

Cadets are taught about Canadian citizenship, practice range shooting, play sports, parade, and of course learn about aviation.

The three types of cadet programming available – air, army and sea – are mostly aligned when it comes to basic training, but for youth drawn to the air cadets, it’s all about ascending to great heights, literally and personally.

Cadets here take to the skies at least once a year with glider pilots out of Wingham, some of whom used to be air cadets.

An underutilized benefit to being an air cadet is the potential to get a pilot’s license at no direct expense, to fly gliders such as the Schleicher ASK 21, or even a private pilot’s licence, to fly powered propeller planes such as a Cessna.

Aspiring pilots would work on ground school and complete an interview process to be selected to get their pilot’s licence covered by federal tax dollars — a value of $5,000 for a glider pilot’s licence and $15,000 for a private pilot’s licence.

Local air cadets also get to participate in field training exercises on the ground with other squads.

The most recent took place at Canadian Forces Base Borden in Simcoe County between May 25 and 26, with 17 other cadet squadrons.

“They did all of the making of shelters, tying knots, map and compass (work), a tank demonstration, they did some basic first-aid stuff, and they really got to meet a whole bunch of the new cadets,” Comeau said.

Three local children are returning to Borden this summer, and another three are heading to Vernon, BC, for a two-week summer training program – all funded by taxpayers at no direct expense to local parents.

As children age through the program, they can progress through the ranks and take on leadership roles with more responsibility and greater expectations.

At the two highest ranks – Warrant Officer First Class and Second Class – a board determines whether the cadets have earned their promotions.

“Not every kid is going to be a sports kid … this gives those kids something different to do,” Comeau said of being a cadet. “It really builds their confidence, and they get to go see parts of the world that they wouldn’t get to go see otherwise.”

Central Cadet Support Unit spokesperson Captain Morgan Arnott told the Community News in an email the local squadron needs more children and adults participating to ensure its future here.

“Adult leaders are needed in Mount Forest to train, administer and supervise the youth involved,” Arnott stated.

Comeau, one of just three local staff charged with making the program work here, said parents can volunteer or join as staff through the Cadet Instructor Cadre.

Arnott wrote that getting involved in cadets as an adult is “a lot of fun, and the skills you learn as an adult leader are transferable to your regular employment.”

According to the spokesperson, the squad’s “viability” is being assessed, and it continues working toward achieving “identified metrics.” 

“No decision has been made regarding potential closure,” stated Arnott.

According to Comeau, current cadets would have the option of joining nearby squadrons in Listowel, Hanover and Grand Valley if the Mount Forest squad is grounded.

Those interested in joining the 895 Fred Campbell VC Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron in Mount Forest can visit or email Comeau for more information at