By Captain Michelle Comeau
Over the course of eight decades, an Air Cadet Squadron in central Alberta has witnessed events that changed the face of history. The 65 Ponoka Air Cadet Squadron is in the midst of celebrating its 80th year in operation.
Our story begins in 1940 along the borders of a Canada deeply involved in World War II. The RCAF of the time was desperate to train young men and felt that the youth should be the ones trained to take their places as aircrew.
In November, 1940, the Air Cadet League of Canada was created to organize Canadian youth to fill those required positions. Within one year of that order, 79 Air Cadet Squadrons were created across Canada, Ponoka being one of those originals. Dec. 17, 1941, the Ponoka Air Cadet Squadron received its charter and became the 65th Squadron, and has been in operation ever since. It was also the first program in the nation to integrate women in the 1970s.
The first home of the Ponoka Squadron was the local armoury (where Hammy’s Spirits currently sits) which also held a troop of the Royal Canadian Artillery. The armoury was enviable quarters for any cadet unit with offices, classrooms, an indoor/outdoor parade square, and in the basement, a 25m range. For 36 years, long after the RCA moved away, 65 Squadron continued to parade there.
Over the next 38 years, the squadron bounced around several locations around the town, and remained strong. Some of those locations included the basement of the old RCMP station, the curling rink, the commanding officer at the time, David Spink’s basement, and the old moose hall downtown. There were three classrooms, large kitchen, parade square, offices, supply, and a beautiful hand painted mural on the front.
As the Squadron grew, the need for a bigger space was required. A building committee spent 15 months searching for a new home, and we proudly started the 2015 training year in the former Ponoka Elementary School pink building.
No Squadron can really exist without a sponsoring body. The original sponsor was the Ponoka Chamber of Commerce, who provided excellent support for the first 15 years. In 1956, Branch No. 66 Royal Canadian Legion, with greater personnel and resources, took over sponsoring responsibilities. With the support of local Legions, Ponoka Air Cadet Society is our current main sponsor.
Today the squadron parades over 20 cadets and continues to grow. The parent committee is very active, with continued support from the Ponoka and Rimbey Legions, Town of Ponoka, community clubs, dedicated civilian volunteers, and good visibility.
To almost every event in Ponoka, Rimbey, and Lacombe, we are requested to provide a delegation of cadets. With a wealth of experience and knowledge in our officers, we are fortunate to be able to provide the 65 Squadron cadets with the best opportunities offered through the cadet program.
The Air Cadet program isn’t a feeder system for the Canadian Armed Forces, despite the fact that the training curriculum is drafted by the Department of National Defence. Instead, the aims are to develop good attributes of citizenship and leadership in youth, promote physical fitness, and stimulate an interest in the Canadian Armed Forces.
The cadet program of today has changed greatly from what it once was, with some training remaining true to its roots such as drill marching, range and aviation. Many new aspects are now also included like aerospace, wilderness survival, and there is a strong focus on leadership and fun. Youth aged 12 to 19 are eligible to participate in the program and can join at any time, though the training year begins in September.
“We are trying to impart a sense of community on the cadets and a sense of their place in Canada. Our Squadron has always thrived on a family feel and making everyone feel included while finding the best version of themselves. We are a cadets leading cadets program, and the cadets thrive on the opportunities they have received,” said current Commanding Officer Michelle Comeau.
Past commanding officers
Captain Johnny Gordon / Arthur Bastes
Captain Garnet Ranks
Captain Ernie Ellis Sr
Captain Leroy White
Captain David Spink
Captain Bruce Tulloch
Captain Keith Erven
Captain D. I. Stretch Captain Norman Hinkley
Captain Evelyn Grover
Captain Stan Monkman
Captain Shane Kreil
Lieutenant Taren McDonell
Captain Heather Schwartz
Captain Tracey Fiedler
Current: Captain Michelle Comeau