Port Alberni is in danger of losing its sea cadet corps if no new adult leaders step up.
Port Alberni’s cadet corps have a strong, visible history in the city. The present location of Kuu-us Crisis Line Society on the corner of Johnston Road and Adelaide Street is the former home of the army cadets. Even “Sea Cadet Park”—a treed hill behind the historic Carmoor Block at the bottom of Argyle Street—has been in the news over contentious development proposals.
The City of Port Alberni proclaimed Sea Cadet Week in September 2017 to celebrate the corps’ 70th anniversary in the city. The sea cadet flag was raised at city hall for the week.
Unfortunately, cadets are facing some challenges in the city. The army cadet corps closed in June 2019 when their commanding officer moved away. “We had done our best to do what we could to find adult leadership,” said Major Darryl Rolfe. He is the area officer for Vancouver Island, in the Regional Cadet Support Unit (Pacific).
Almost all of Port Alberni’s army cadets decided to switch uniforms and join sea cadets, where they would have similar training—just with boats.
The corps has 21 sea cadets ready to go, provided they can find leaders. “(That’s) a healthy number,” Rolfe said.
The Sea Cadet Corps has been training online with a corps from Parksville throughout the coronavirus pandemic, when meetings were forced to be virtual. They have an interim Commanding Officer, LCdr. Don Irwin from Nanaimo. Having a commander that has to commute an hour each way for weekly training is not ideal though.
“It’s not sustainable in the long term to have someone travel that distance. The CAF pays for travel but usually not for something that sustained. We want someone invested in the community,” Rolfe said.
Sea cadets are operated through the Department of National Defence, so leadership comes from members of the Canadian Armed Forces reserves. Their role would be in support of the cadet program, Rolfe explained, and it is a paid position. Training is provided.
Officers in the cadet cadre come from all walks of life: teachers, RCMP, private business owners, even former cadets and retired military personnel. “People that do come and join our program have a community-minded sense and want to give to their community.”
People between the ages of 18 and 62 are eligible (the cadet instructor cadre has a mandatory release age of 65 years) to sign up to become leaders. There is a recruiting process that includes physical and medical screening and a police record check.
If you’re worried about having to go to military boot camp, don’t: “Our terms of service are different,” Rolfe said.
The younger version of sea cadets, Navy League, has also faced challenges throughout COVID-19 restrictions as a result of the pandemic. Navy League is sponsored by the Department of National Defence, but is not operated by DND.
“The Navy League Corps has effectively been shut down for 18 months,” said Julie Hillsden, president of the Vancouver Island Division of Navy League of Canada. “We now have someone who has stepped up to restart it but he can’t do it alone. We desperately need more adult leadership.
“It would be such a shame if these programs were to disappear,” Hillsden added. “Once gone, there is very little chance that they will ever be restarted.”
Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
— Susie Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor.