With the ongoing support and encouragement of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #66 and the community, our Ponoka Air Cadet squadron #65 has hosted thousands of young boys and girls to a unique training and social experience for 74 exciting years and counting. Some of the activities that those young lads from Ponoka and districts took part in the early days of the thriving cadet movement included….marksmanship, drills, health and safety programs, band, summer and winter campouts, social and community activities and lots more marching and drills.
Cadet squad for girls formed in 1954
There would be a lot of excitement in and around town in September 1954 when Orton Dodds, a Ponoka butcher and chairman of the local civilian committee for the Air Cadet League of Canada announced the plans to form the very first air cadet squadron for the girls living in and around our town and surrounding districts. The initial parade was held on Sept. 14 in the local armories on the south end of Railway Street, which would serve our local air cadet program and many other activities for many decades. As early as 1946, the Royal Canadian Air Force had nationally introduced flying scholarships and gliding training at little or no cost to the families of young participants, while active school life and guidance programs were also in place for all students.
Although the newly formed Ponoka Girls’ Air Cadet Squadron, with over two dozen energetic young ladies 14 years of age and over taking part was not officially affiliated with the Royal Canadian Air Force, it did receive every assistance and encouragement from Flt. Lieutenant G.G. Ranks, who headed the local boys’ cadet squad and would serve as the RCAF liaison for both groups. Members of those first Ponoka lady cadets included Maxine and Yvonne Pelletier, Mavis and Norma Stuart, Bev Rimbey, Delores Abt (Somshor), Audrey Burchnell, Florence Guertin, Jean Strause, Violet Cleveland, Judy Clissold, Arlene Klein, Jewel Baisley, Heather MacLeod, Peggy Wiggins, Marjorie Young, Carol Mattern, Lesley Drummond, Carol Mattern, Joan Kerns, Myrna Donnelly, and Joan Trainor (Staldecker), who was one of the first to get her sergeant stripes.
In chatting with Joan Staldecker and Del Abt, they both fondly recalled their weekly sessions with the Ponoka Girls’ Cadet Squadron, looking resplendent in their blue skirts, straight black ties, wedge caps, black nylons, and black Cuban heel shoes. Instructors included Mr. and Mrs. Ernie Ellis, Orton Dodds, G.G. Ranks, and others, who led them through courses in physical training, photography, St. John’s Ambulance, marksmanship and drills, as well as a special course in first aid and home nursing. They also really looked forward to parading once a month with the boys’ air cadet squadron in the field behind the armories, in the arena or around the community for special events. The girls also enjoyed socials and pot-luck suppers, and really looked forward to the shooting competitions in the basement of the armories with the boys of #65 squad, who they were quite often able to beat, then enjoyed the bragging rights, and in later years would use these ‘eagle eye’ skills to go out hunting with their fathers.
The Ponoka Girls’ Air Cadet Squadron operated for about two years, but during that time, over 60 young ladies from Ponoka and districts enjoyed the training programs and various social, sports, and community involvement. Following several years of ‘unofficial participation’ by some all Girl’s Air Cadet Squadrons throughout the Province, The Air Cadet League of Canada approved the formation of combined boys’ and girls’ air cadet squadrons on July 3, 1975.
Over the years, the Royal Canadian Legion Air Cadet Squadron #65 Ponoka has hosted hundreds of 12 to 19-year-old boys and girls from community and districts to a rewarding experience of vigorous training, social activities and keen camaraderie. Thanks to the ongoing traditional support of the Ponoka Legion and the community as well as the dedicated leadership of officers, instructors, volunteers and parent groups, our local squadron has thrived and continued to be one of the most active air cadet movements among the 458 currently operating in Canada. As a proud member of the air cadets, the young participants are given the unique opportunity of extensive training programs that include aviation, citizenship, drills, fitness, sports, band program, marksmanship, discipline, survival and team-work, with amazing benefits such as scholarships, awards, medals, promotions, national courses, International exchange programs, and camps at Sea Island, Penhold, Camp Borden and so much more.
The Ponoka Air Cadet Squadron have just moved from their long-standing 5006-51 Avenue location into new headquarters at the former Ponoka Elementary (pink) School, and meet every Tuesday night. For a ‘youthful experience of a lifetime’ in the Air Cadets please contact Phone 403-783-4181 or Email: 65Air@cadets.gc.ca .