Upper Canada College Cadets

Excepted from Upper Canada College, 1829-1979: Colborne’s Legacy; Howard, Richard; Macmillan Company of Canada, 1979

There is no fixed date for the formation of the Upper Canada College (UCC) Cadets, though beginnings can be traced to a willingness of students to participate in the defence against the 1837 rebellion. Later in the 1800s, in schools throughout England, Canada and the United States, involvement in a military body was thought of to inspire patriotism in young men, as well as being a good method of teaching discipline and obedience. By 1863, UCC students were paraded weekly, in an amateur fashion, under someone known as Major Goodwin, but with the beginning of Fenian troubles in Upper Canada by 1865, UCC students requested that the Cadets form into a company of the Queen’s Own Rifles. By 1866, the request was fulfilled, making UCC possibly the second school in Canada to have a proper Cadet Corps (the first being Bishop’s College School in Lennoxville, Quebec).

When the Fenians did attack Fort Erie, Ontario, on June 1, 1866 (see Fenian Raids), the UCC Cadets, along with the Bishop’s College Cadets (Quebec), were called to duty, but were instructed only to guard the armouries and official stores. None-the-less, this was the only time in Canadian military history where student Cadet Corps were called to duty.

Upper Canada College Cadets 1893
Upper Canada College Cadets 1899

By the 1890s, there was a lack of enthusiasm for the Cadets. It was an extra expense for a student’s family to cover the costs of uniform, weapons, and even their drill instructor. As well, drill and practice time was beyond the commitment to scholastics and sport. Enrolment fluctuated over the next few decades, at one point the school’s administration turning its eyes to the school the College had been modeled on, Eton, as well as Harrow, where Cadet participation was compulsory. No real action was taken by UCC in regards to the Cadets, however, by 1910 the population of the company had increased to 63, and in 1912 a Sergeant Carpenter was approached to act as instructor. He was not to last long, as by 1914 he was in Europe as Sergeant-Major in the 9th Battalion of the 1st Canadian Overseas Contingent. Numbers in the UCC Cadets still stayed high during the First World War.

Upper Canada College Cadets 1909

By around 1919, the UCC Cadets finally became compulsory, and principal Grant asked the army district headquarters if the Corps could be presented with Colours, both the King’s Colour and College Colour.  [Now Regimental Sergeant Major Carpenter also returned in 1919.] The College Colour was given by Elanor Gooderham in 1921.

During the First World War, the Cadets’ association with the Queen’s Own Rifles had lapsed, and by 1923 two regiments, the Toronto Regiment and Queen’s Own Rifles were requesting that the Corps affiliate itself with them. After some dispute between the three parties, the College settled on the Queen’s Own again by 1927.

Lieutenant Colonel W.A. McCrimmon inspecting cadets at Upper Canada College 1924
Inspecting the Cadet Guard of Honour for the Upper Canada College Centenary Celebrations, September 1929. Lieutenant Governor W.E. Ross and Captain Frank Shipp, Officer Commanding the cadet corps.

Cadet Colour Party for the Upper Canada College Centenary Celebrations, September 1929

For thirty following years, the Cadets remained an integral part of College life, and by the middle of the Second World War boys were practicing not only drills, but also spent time on lectures, map reading, military law, and signalling.

Upper Canada College Cadets Corps Annual Inspection, May 1940

Still, by the 1960s, due to broader shifts in social paradigms, belief in the Cadets was faltering; religion and patriotism were not held in such high regard by youth, and rebellion was the more accepted behaviour for teenagers. Minutes of the Board of Governors meeting in 1965 recorded, for the first time in sixty years, poor discipline at the battalion parade.

Upper Canada College Cadet Corps Band on parade November, 1967

Principal Richard Sadlier finally disbanded the Cadet Battalion as a compulsory body in 1976. He noted: “The Battalion has been left with little beyond its ceremonial drill which is a pretty irrelevant exercise to many people today and difficult to defend when it becomes the be-all and end-all of a program.”

In 1977, the voluntary Royal Canadian Army Cadets helped organize a course in military science at UCC, which also included battle drill, field craft, weapons training, and some parade-square drill. But, by the mid 1980s, interest in this programme had fallen to a bare minimum, and today UCC provides no formal military training.

17 Upper Canada College Cadet Corps marching out of Moss Park Armoury circa 1979 led by Captain Walter Belfontaine, CD

The voluntary corps was officially disbanded April 15, 1988, although new colours were dedicated and presented to the College by Old Boys in 1989.

New colours dedicated and presented to the College by old boys in 1989.

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