The Cadet Corps of Upper Canada College paraded with The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada for 127 years. The Corps is gone now, but its legacy is a proud part of the regiment’s traditions.
Upper Canada College formed a Rifle Company in 1860 as a volunteer 11th company attached to 2nd Battalion, Volunteer Militia Rifles of Canada shortly after it was founded in Toronto. This commitment by a prominent private school reflected the public spirit and volunteerism of Victorian Canada that was expressed in the militia movement of the day.
In 1866, when the Fenians threatened Ontario, the UCC Rifle Company was called to active service along with its parent regiment. While the regiment marched to Ridgeway to confront the Fenian invaders, the UCC Rifle Company guarded the port, armouries and government buildings of Toronto. For this deed, the student company proudly carried the battle honour “FENIAN RAID 1865-66” on its drums and colours from that day forward. Students in the battalion who stood guard also were entitled to receive the Canadian General Service Medal with their names inscribed on the medal’s edge and the “Fenian Raid 1866” bar on its red and white striped ribbon.
The College continued to serve Canada and the Empire, providing six Commanding Officers of The Queen’s Own Rifles: W.D. Otter 1875-83, J.M. Delamere 1897-1901, Henry M. Pellatt 1901-12, Arthur J.E. Kirkpatrick 1922-25, Reginald Pellatt 1925-30, and R.B. Gibson 1935-37. During the Great War, 1,089 Old Boys volunteered for military service, and 176 gave their lives.
- See also Upper Canada College graduates (and Masters) who served in The Queen’s Own Rifles or one of the perpetuated battalions from the First World War.
Membership in the Cadet Corps became compulsory for UCC students in 1919, with the enlarged Corps reflecting the need to ensure that Canada and the Empire were adequately prepared for any future conflicts.
The following is a silent film clip of a 1930s inspection:
When conflict did come in 1939, the Cadets of the College were swept up in the war, as were all young men of their age, and 1,580 volunteered for service, of whom 129 died for their country. During the war, UCC Cadets provided outstanding leadership to the Canadian Forces, with almost 20 percent of the Army’s generals coming from the Corps. These leaders included General Harry Crerar (GOC-in-C First Canadian Army) and Major General A. Bruce Matthews (GOC Second Canadian Infantry Division). In his later years, General Matthews was Colonel Commandant of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery and Chair of UCC’s Board of Governors.
In the years following the Second World War, the Corps settled into the evolving structure of the Cadet movement and formally bore the title 17 Royal Canadian (Army) Cadet Corps. In 1960, Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery visited Toronto at the invitation of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, which was celebrating its 100th birthday at the time. Montgomery of Alamein, as he was known, met with the veterans of The Queen’s Own and inspected the UCC Corps, proclaiming it was “the best cadet unit I have ever seen during my long service in the army”. High praise indeed!
UCC Cadets who served in The Queen’s Own Rifles during and since the Second World War include Brigadier-General J. Neil Gordon (Commanding Officer of D Company on D-Day), Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel H.S. Hughes (Historical Officer in Northwest Europe and Ontario Supreme Court Judge), Captain Adam Hermant (Adjutant and President of the regimental Trust Fund), and Lieutenant Samuel G.S. Hughes.
The Voluntary Years
By 1975, the Cadet Corps that Monty had so admired in the 1960s had fallen victim to a variety of factors, particularly the anti-military sentiments emanating from the United States due to the Vietnam War. These had a surprisingly strong impact on Canadians. Also, the 1970s Cadet training program, geared to mass activity for all students, was particularly inflexible. The vast majority of training was devoted to a single aim – preparing for the annual inspection parade in the spring. Apart from rudimentary map-reading and first aid training, for the vast majority of UCC students the Corps was an exercise in square-bashing in a blue dress uniform, using non-functional (drill-purpose) rifles that they saw as an irrelevant ordeal to be endured. Furthermore, the principal instructors were WWII veterans approaching retirement age. The new generation of masters at the College had neither the military experience nor the interest to help rejuvenate the Cadet program. A fair number, like their colleagues teaching at university and college levels, were in fact strongly and vocally anti-military.
Discussions through 1973-75 with The Queen’s Own Rifles and other supporters led to the creation of the “Military Science Club”, which was an attempt to offer an enhanced military program for UCC students without the formal trappings of the military, particularly the uniforms and drill. The Military Science Club was a lecture series that tried to balance advanced military study with talks that would appeal to young men looking for action and adventure. When this club approach turned out to be less than popular, the College announced in 1975 that student membership in the Corps would cease to be mandatory. Principal Richard Sadleir wrote to the students and parents, saying it was his hope that “a smaller group can now together accomplish more significant things which will truly enrich the lives of those participating”.
There was indeed support for a voluntary Corps, and Principal Sadleir’s words were truly reflected in the Corps that emerged in 1977, re-established as the Upper Canada College Rifles. The Area Cadet Office became involved in the plight of the Corps, and assigned Captain Walter Belfontaine, an experienced Army Cadet Officer (Cadet Instructors List), to initiate a Corps run along typical Cadet lines. Captain Belfontaine was a National Defence civilian employee, a WWII veteran and a former RQMS of 2 Field Engineer Regiment. He recruited a colleague at Canadian Forces Base Downsview, Captain Gil Gray, as his Quartermaster. Captain Gray worked in the CF Base supply system, so the Corps was superbly equipped. Captain Belfontaine also recruited young officers (starting with Steven Burns and C. Michael Gardner) to develop an active and interesting program, taking the regular Army Cadet program and tying it into weekend training exercises at the College’s outdoor property near Norval, Ontario. Captain Belfontaine’s special skill was musketry – indeed, he coached the Cadet summer program that sent teams to the Bisley rifle matches in England. So UCC cadets spent many afternoons on the small-bore rifle range at Moss Park Armoury (courtesy of The Queen’s Own Rifles, who also provided military truck transport between the College and the Armoury) as well as the Moss Park parade square.
The Corps was provided with strong leadership during its voluntary years by a dedicated group of Officers (Cadet Instructor List) and Civilian Instructors. The work of Captain Belfontaine (CO 1978-82) was carried on by Captain John Stephens (CO 1982-85), Captain Geoffrey Winnington-Ball (CO 1985-87), and Civilian Instructor James Lutz (Training Officer 1984-87). John Stephens, an experienced Scouts Canada leader, exercised a fine sense of balance between allowing the Cadets to exercise their imaginations and maintaining control over their activities. Geoff Winnington-Ball was an Old Boy from the College who had been a sergeant in the Corps and was the son of an Old Boy who had served as a lieutenant in the old mandatory Corps. Jim Lutz was an Infantry veteran of the 101st Airborne Division in the Vietnam War and brought a sense of adventure and “field-smart” skills to the Corps’ exercises.
Having been firmly established by the fine work of Captain Belfontaine, the UCC Rifles – fondly known as the Yukkers from their acronym UCCR – remained as a voluntary organization for a decade, with membership numbering in the 20s. While its numbers were never large, it retained a bold spirit, growing into a less formal but more inspirational club for students looking for adventure and challenges. The Corps’ theme was Adventure Leadership Training, focused on the experiential learning of leadership through field exercises, most of them held at Norval, northeast of Toronto. Training was given in patrolling, land navigation, reconnaissance, night operations and bivouacking. One of the highlights of field exercises was Norval Orienteering, an inverted version of standard orienteering, invented by Training Officer Lutz, which required teams to compete over a course of control points with the objective of being the last team to visit more control points than any other team – a unique challenge for which there was never an obvious solution. A frequent highlight of exercises at Norval was a friendly night raid on the Mac’s Convenience Store just outside the College property. Cadets from other Corps were often invited to participate in Norval weekends, and several future leaders of 2881 Queen’s Own Rifles Cadet Corps attended these exercises including Kim O’Leary, Michael Rainforth and Shaun Bridge. Weekends at Norval were always busy, with challenging scenarios that had cadets patrolling up and down the length and breadth of the property by day and night, always ending in a climactic (and usually very noisy) assault on Norval House.
Through the efforts of Captain Stephens, the Corps expanded its field operations to the Scouts Canada reserve in Haliburton, Ontario, which led to some memorable exercises in the rugged wilderness far removed from the familiar terrain of Norval. Winter exercises were held at Huntsville in January, where Civilian Instructor Tom Obright of Scouts Canada taught the Cadets how to build and sleep in quinzee huts made of snow. In 1983, the Corps had the great honour of taking to the field with The Queen’s Own Rifles and participating in Exercise CHROME COBRA at Gutowski’s farm near Campbellville, Ontario.
In January 1987, The Empire Club of Canada honoured the 100th anniversary of the UCC Rifles as a formal Cadet Corps with a lunch, speech and presentation to the Corps by UCC Old Boy and Minister of Defence Perrin Beatty.
In 1989, former Cadet Christopher Carnegie initiated a project to replace the old Colours of the Corps. At the time there were three known sets of Colours:
- A set presented in 1921 in memory of the Old Boys who had fallen in the Great War, which was displayed in the front hall of the College;
- The last Colour carried by the mandatory Corps and subsequently by the voluntary Corps, is retained in the College Archives; and
- A new Colour (in the same design as the second one) that had been dedicated by the voluntary Corps, but was stolen and never recovered.
Christopher Carnegie raised private funds to purchase a new set, including a Corps Colour, Union Jack and National Ensign. The Colour was made to the exact design of the second one mentioned above. These Colours were dedicated on Association Day 1989 in a ceremony that included the Pioneers and Skirmishers of The Queen’s Own Rifles, its Regimental Band and Bugles, and several distinguished Old Boys including Brigadier-General Neil Gordon.
Originally the Cadets wore Army Cadet khaki wool battledress for weekly training, complete with puttees. By 1980, battle dress had been phased out of the Cadet system and a dark green “safari suit” style uniform had been adopted, worn with a Canadian Forces green beret. Fortunately, a small supply of UCC’s historic blue uniforms had been retained when the mandatory Corps was disbanded, and these uniforms were used by the school colour party and later by the voluntary Corps for Queen’s Own Rifles church parades, annual inspection and other special occasions (including the Corps’ annual all-ranks mess dinner). This blue dress uniform was worn with black leather belts and gaiters, and black berets with the College cap badge (brass for other ranks, silver for officers). Cadets outfitted themselves with Canadian Forces-pattern combat clothing and equipment for weekend exercises.
The Cadet Commanding Officers of the Corps during the voluntary years were:
- Robert Zeidler 1977-78
- Arthur McLean 1978-80
- Donald Cooper 1980-81
- Gregory Pun 1981-82
- Adrian White 1982-83
- Michael Eklund 1983-84
- Matthew Bryden 1984-85
- Thomas Simko 1985
- Timothy Young 1985-86
- Daniel O’Dwyer 1986-87
Two former Cadets of the voluntary Corps subsequently served as leaders of The Queen’s Own Rifles: Lieutenant Colonel Rob Zeidler as Commanding Officer and Honorary Lieutenant Colonel Brendan Caldwell. The Corps also provided a Commanding Officer to the 48th Highlanders – Lieutenant Colonel Ian Sargeant – as well as officers to 2 Field Engineer Regiment (Arthur McLean and John Weir), 2 Intelligence Company (Adrian White), The Toronto Scottish Regiment (Adrian White and Arthur McLean), the Canadian Grenadier Guards (Matthew Bryden), the Princess of Wales Own Regiment (Mike Eklund), The Royal Montreal Regiment (Mike Eklund) and (after years of NCO service in the Royal Regiment of Canada) a pilot officer in the Air Force (Frederick Jones).
The Final Parade
By 1987, the Corps’ membership was declining, and its leadership – both Officers and Cadets – recognized that it would be best to stand down with honour rather than remain the relic of a once-great Corps. The Officers proposed to Principal Eric Barton that the Corps stand down, and the Principal accepted this recommendation with regret. On November 29, 1987, the Corps held its final parade (Exercise APOCALYPSE DAWN) at the College’s Norval property. A number of past and present Cadets and Officers attended the exercise. On Sunday, the Corps marched to a ridge on the property and buried a time capsule containing UCC Rifles memorabilia. As a light rain fell, the Corps formed ranks and an officer read “The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna”:
Slowly and sadly we laid him down,
From the field of his fame fresh and gory;
We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone,
But left him alone with his glory.
The Corps presented arms, a three-round salute was fired, and the Corps marched off, its final exercise now history. The legacy of the Corps is still preserved in the spirit of those who served in its ranks. This spirit of leadership is expressed in the UCC Rifles Creed:
We are the few. The proud. The UCC Rifles.
There are not many of us.
But there were not many Spartans at Thermopylae,
nor many South Wales Borderers at Rorke’s Drift,
nor many Screaming Eagles at Bastogne.
Yet in each case, a few good men had the will and the skill to change the course of history.
A few well-led men had the determination to face their opponents,
endure hard conditions, and accomplish their mission.
Someday I will find myself in such a situation which requires action,
initiative, decision, discipline, moral or physical courage.
I will remember my training in the UCC Rifles.
I will be the one to say
You can read more about the Upper Canada College Cadets in this blog posting from April 2012.