One of Yellowknife's "best kept secrets" is celebrating 50 years.
The 825 Elks Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron has been a place for youth to earn all things aviation since 1972, surviving crisis, moving to different buildings and, most recently, struggling through the pandemic.
Former Commanding Officer and long-time supporter Darcy Cherwaty told the CBC the Weekender's Marc Winkler the squadron has always done well for the youth it serves, though it may not have a very high public profile..
"It's a very positive program [for] today's youth … and reflecting across the North, it's an excellent way for youth and their development into their adult progression," he said.
The non-profit local program is a branch of the federal Cadets, which offer sea, army or air programs free to youth ages 12-18.
Former Commanding officers sat down to reflect on the evolution and highs of the program during its half century of work.
From paper planes to flight simulators
Air Cadets was quite different in the 70s and 80s.
Before flight simulators came along instructors would use paper airplanes to teach aerodynamics, explained Steve Daniel, a former 825 squadron commanding officer.
"Technology has definitely been the forerunner of things before … everything around aviation has been in an analog environment and as technology changes, we took advantage of that when it came to training the cadets," Daniel said.
And while the focus has always been aviation, there has been a shift to include aerospace too. The 825 squadron partnered with the Canadian Space Agency to watch shuttle launches —including the 2001 launch with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, during the Canadarm2 installation, and the 2009 shuttle launch with Canadian astronaut Julie Payette.
"While they were down there, they were exposed to some pretty amazing things," Daniel said. "[The cadets] got to try out an F18 simulator, they got to try the shuttle simulator and attempt to do landings with that."
Meanwhile some of Cherwaty's highs during his four decades with the squadron include watching the cadets jump off 32-foot towers, a key part of parachute training, and getting front row seats to watch F18 fighter jets take off.
"That really blew me away … we were probably within 100 yards, but it was close enough to rock the bus," Cherwaty said with a laugh.
Forging bonds for life
The 825 Elks Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron held its 50th anniversary celebration last Saturday, with some alumni in attendance.
"Some are in uniform, some are now commercial aviators, some are in senior leadership positions within government and other organizations," said Daniel. "All the [cadets] that I've know of have all succeeded in the areas that they've decided to go into and I think part of that have been the raining they got when they were in cadets."
But the most satisfying product of the cadet experience for both former officers is the lifelong friendships that flowed from it.
"I've kept in touch with some of the cadets, but more importantly, they've kept in touch with themselves … they've learned a lot about building teams, staying together as teams and they've had some really long lasting friendships," Daniel said.
"Cadets is one of Canada's best kept secrets as far as youth group goes," he said.
So, what's next for the squadron?
The former officers said the sky's the limit.