Merritt’s local cadet core looks to boast numbers in its army cadet program, with the group’s post-COVID restriction return moving slower than expected. The Royal Canadian Army Cadets Corps 950 have operated in the Nicola Valley for over a century, but the long-serving cadet core has seen a dip in its membership recently. 

The army cadet program is a partially federally funded program, which is offered free-of-charge to youth in Canada aged 12 to 18. The program focuses on adventure training, including trekking, canoeing, survival training, marksmanship, and a number of important and transferable life skills. The Rocky Mountain Rangers cadet core was established in the Nicola Valley 102 years ago, and has seen consistent numbers since. Despite a recent lull in numbers, long-time organizers are committed to the program.

“Even if it’s just one [cadet], we’re here,” said Bryan Cressock, training officer with the local cadet core. 

“When we go out on training exercises, there is no such thing as ‘I,’ it’s all a team. They do everything out there as a team, and we teach that.” 

Cressock noted that the core had a consistent membership base of about 15 cadets before the pandemic, with numbers reaching up to 20. After the pandemic restrictions on indoor group meetings were lifted, the program restarted with just two cadets in the Nicola Valley. He believes that the program has tremendous value to cadets and officers alike, adding that the program teaches youth responsibility, respect, and leadership skills. 

The cadet core relies on public donations, federal funding through the Department of National Defence, and several local organization to keep running. The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 96 in Merritt has sponsored the local cadet core for decades, and continues to pledge its support for the federally run non-profit program. 

“I’ve been here over twenty years, and then we had over twenty kids parading,” said Nick Tolerton, the local Legion branch’s liaison officer to the cadet core.

“I speak at [Legion] meetings concerning the situation at the core. The Legion is actually is one of their main sponsors, so we provide them financial support.”

Tolerton noted that the Legion would like to see an increase in numbers for the program, which it believes brings value to the community’s youth. Tolerton added that practical skills such as map and compass reading have real life value, along with the leadership and discipline the program instills on cadets.

Meetings, called parade nights by the core, take place at the Cadet Hall on Coldwater Avenue. Currently, Captain Vanessa Keely leads the local core through their regular parade nights and special events. Recently, cadets took place in a postal shooting competition, where targets were mailed to cadet cores across B.C. for a marksmanship competition. The local cadet core have now qualified themselves, as a group and as individuals, to take part in regional competitions. During parade nights, cadets hone their skills and expand their horizons.

“Generally, we start out with our opening parade, they do a bit of drill, we do our inspections of all of our uniforms, sometimes we have guest speakers come in, or our Legion representative, they’ll talk to them,” said Keely.

“Usually, they break for lessons of some kind. Currently, we don’t have a lot of instructors, so that kind of makes it a little bit more flexible as to what we can instruct, and how much time we have to do it.”

Keely was a cadet herself, which she said helped her become a more confident person. The Captain noted that she believes the cadet program helps to facilitate the development of  important life skills such as responsibility and leadership. She noted that not only does the program looks great on a resume, it allows youth to connect with each other in a positive environment.

Members of the local cadet core, of whom there are currently four, told the Herald that they enjoy the structure and outdoor nature of the program, including the shooting competitions. The local cadet core has a number of activities planned in the coming months, including field excursions, training exercises, and more shooting competitions.

For more information on the Royal Canadian Army Cadets Corps 950, call the cadet hall at 250-378-9485, or email