The Early Days in Germany
856 Rhine Valley Squadron was originally formed CFB Baden-Söllingen on the Rhine River in Germany in 1970 and is one of the few Royal Canadian Air Cadet squadrons to have seen overseas service. The squadron was originally formed as a second flight of 800 Black Forest Squadron, which was situated in Lahr, Germany. The origins of our squadron are still seen on our squadron banner.
With the return of the eight Canadian Forces regular squadrons to Canada from deployment in Europe (four squadrons from Lahr and four squadrons from Baden) and with the decommissioning of the Canadian Forces Wings in Germany in 1993, 856 Rhine Valley Squadron was stood down.
Reforming in Pickering
The formation of a new squadron was warranted in the Durham area, as the enrolment of the Air Cadet movement increased yearly and the need for a squadron became evident. The only existing squadron in Durham was at wing strength (2 Squadron).
The Ontario Provincial Committee (OPC) of the Air Cadet League of Canada began the search for interested air cadet officers willing to launch a new squadron. The undertaking of starting up a new squadron is a large one.
A Forming Committee was assembled, consisting of Major Colette Blight (Commanding Officer, 110 Squadron), Captain Michael Neujahr (Commanding Officer, 330 Squadron) and Second Lieutenant Marc DeCock (Administration Officer, 110 Squadron), together with former Air Cadet Officer Mr. John Nolan (Major, retired). An action plan was drafted, detailing the key factors required to apply to form the new squadron, including:
- finding a local sponsor or sponsors willing to assume funding and support for a newly formed unit;
- determining in which city/town the unit would be formed (this also influenced the sponsorship as clubs are area or territory controlled);
- possible names for consideration as first Commanding Officer;
- formulating a list of potential cadets (as the OPC needed a list proving the need for a unit within the area selected); and
- locating a suitable training area for the new unit.
The Kinsmen/Kinette Club of Pickering immediately responded to the call for sponsorship. Pickering was an obvious choice for the Squadron’s location, as the youth population was rapidly growing and interest for an air cadet unit was high. In July 1998 the squadron was again stood up under the sponsorship of the Pickering Kinsmen Club.
With our sponsors in place and a listing of potential cadets, an application was submitted to the OPC detailing the Forming Committee’s progress. The deactivation of 800 and 856 squadrons resulted in both numbers becoming available once again. All squadrons in the regular forces take their numbering from a block of numbers assigned to various countries in the British Commonwealth (with Canada assigned numbers 400-450 and Australia 451-500 etc.). The numbers in the 800 series are usually reserved for naval air squadrons in Great Britain and the Commonwealth.
The Air Cadets do not follow the same protocol and began with #1 Squadron Montreal in 1941, through to the 900 series throughout the country. As squadrons stand down, their number is held in a pool and reassigned to newly formed squadrons. With the permission of the OPC, the new squadron was referred to as 856 Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron. The action plan was progressing well. During the summer of 1998, the Forming Committee was advised of Major Don Duthie’s willingness to assume the role of Commanding Officer of the new squadron. The Squadron received its charter from the Air Cadet League of Canada in September 1998.
The Squadron Sponsoring Committee (SSC) was established, consisting of members of the Kinsmen Club and parents of cadets transferring to the new squadron. The first SSC included Mr. John Nolan (Chair), Mr. Ken Poyner (Vice Chair and Kinsmen member), Mrs. Donna Davidson (Treasurer and parent of cadet), Mr. Ken Winfrow (Kinsmen member), Mr. Dan Hutt (Kinsmen member) and Mr. Peter Johannes (parent of cadet).
The SSC set out on the challenging task of finding a location for the possible influx of new cadets. Many locations were considered and rejected. Finally, the Town of Pickering allowed the squadron the use of the Don Beer Sports Rink’s banquet room. In the fall of 1998, even though the facility was small, an introductory open house was held. Not surprisingly, a large number of new and transferring cadets (a total of 123) applied to become members of 856 Squadron that evening!
The Early Years
Supplies were limited in the first year, but the Forming Committee worked diligently prior to the beginning of the training year to ensure that both training and administration were up to speed. Borrowing from neighbouring squadrons, creating their own manuals, assessment forms and lesson plans and establishing a challenging and interesting schedule in short order proved a daunting task.
Moreover, working with a diverse and experienced staff (three former commanding officers were joined by a fourth when Captain Ray Howells came on board in the second training year) was equally challenging, as each came to the squadron with their own goals and priorities, based on their previous squadron’s traditions and standards. This proved very beneficial, since it allowed the staff to experiment and combine previous practices, with the result that the squadron tested new approaches and began to develop its own identity early on.
The squadron’s first external competition consisted of the Toronto Area Sports Competition held at CFB Borden in the fall of 1998 – this set the foundation of excellence in sports that our unit enjoys today. The team of cadets represented 856 Squadron well, walking away with four of five gold medals! The squadron ended its first year on a high note, parading over 100 cadets at its annual review and receiving the top first year squadron award at the OPC Annual General Meeting in the fall of 1999.
Creating the Squadron Crest
A design competition for a squadron crest was held in 2001, with several cadets actively participating. After reviewing several semi-finalists’ submissions, Sgt. Kirsten Johannes’ artwork was judged as the winning entry. Sgt. Johannes incorporated the old Rhine Valley design, replacing the stylized German eagle with one indigenous to the Pickering area and superimposing the Peregrine Falcon over the Canadian Maple Leaf, which sits over a ribbon depicting Germany’s flag.
A squadron competition was then held to select the squadron’s motto, with over fifty mottos submitted for consideration. WO1 Benjamin Nasmith submitted the winning entry, “In Unity is Strength”.
Facts About the Squadron Crest
Peregrine Falcon: The Peregrine Falcon is the world’s swiftest bird, currently on the endangered list in Canada and in many places in the United States. This bird of prey is a marvellous, swift-winged predator. Interesting to note, peregrine means ‘coming from another region or country.
Maple Leaf: Canada’s official emblem representing our Canadian background.
German Flag: Represents our history. The Squadron was first formed in Germany at a Canadian Forces Base in Baden. Once the base closed, the Squadron was disbanded.
Squadron Motto: In Unity Is Strength.
Once the crest design and motto were selected, Pine Ridge Arts Council of Pickering was contacted to fine-tune the graphic. After a few adjustments, both the crest and motto were submitted to the Air Cadet League of Canada for approval.
As the first years passed, it became increasingly clear that the existing training facility would proved inadequate for over 100 cadets. Thanks once again to the Kinsmen/Kinettes, a more suitable location was found at the East Shore Community Centre and the squadron began parading at its new facility in the year 2000. The cadets and staff quickly established a mutual friendship with the centre’s other major group, the South Pickering Seniors Club and cadets actively participate in the club’s annual Christmas Dinner and Dance.
Coincidentally, the change in venue brought about a change in command, as Major Duthie stepped down in October 2000, turning the reins over to Major Colette Blight. Shortly afterwards, Mr. Ken Winfrow assumed the Chair of the SSC from Mr. John Nolan, who went on to become the squadron’s second OPC Director, assuming that role from the squadron’s first Director, Mr. Frank Charbonneau.
The Squadron Today
In the years since its inception, the squadron has won numerous awards for excellence in training and community service. Air Cadet League awards presented to our squadron include:
- Top New Squadron in Ontario (1998-1999)
- Excellence in Training and Community Service (1999-2000)
- Excellence in Community Service (2000-2001)
- Top Sponsoring Body for York, Scarborough and Durham Regions (2000-2001 and 2001-2002)
- Lord Strathcona Trust for Top Squadron in Central Ontario (2001-2002)
- Doug Whitley Award for Top Provincial Graduate Flying Scholarship Course (2002 and 2003)
- Excellence in Training (2002-2003)
- Lord Strathcona Trust Primary for Third Top Squadron in Ontario (2003-2004)
Professionalism, excellence in performance and dedication define 856 Pickering Kinsmen Squadron. The cadets continually strive and achieve goals together, working as a solid team. To date, the squadron has graduated five cadets who are currently enrolled in, or have graduated from, the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. In addition, numerous cadets have gone on to achieve success in other post-secondary and professional endeavours, many of whom are in the aeronautical or aerospace sectors.
The squadron continues to parade over 150 cadets, with an active staff of about 20 officers and civilian instructors. The Squadron Sponsoring Committee is also incredibly active with about 10 members. Finally, the squadron continues to enjoy the support of the Pickering Kinsmen/Kinettes Club, with several members actively participating in the Sponsoring Committee.