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  • Paul Van Nest


Over the past 100 years, Rotary in Kingston has focused on helping children and youth from supplying shoes, creating leadership opportunities, supporting summer outdoor experiences at RKY Camp, building a Skateboard Park, and many other projects.

In the 1940s, when Canada was at war, many fathers were serving away from home, and their sons were left without fathers and male role models. Rotarians decided to help by forming a Sea Cadet Corps and a formative committee was struck on October 21, 1942. Peter Swalm, Harry Birchall, Ross Joslin and Baxter England met with the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) representatives: V Drake, HL Cartwright, JH Saunders and A Hill. Rotarian Peter Swalm was elected chairman and remained as chair for the duration.

Application forms were distributed with the announcement of the first parade scheduled for Thursday, October 29, 1942 (barely a week later) at the Badminton Club, 47 Wellington Street. The parade was a success and, a week later, the Kingston Rotary Sea Cadet Corps was launched on November 4. The Grand Theatre management offered its facility for the Charter Night. Lt. Col. Kernahan, the commander of HMCS Cataraqui, joined the committee on May 9, 1943.

Rotary was asked for a donation of $3,400 over the next two years for overcoat uniforms. Admission was restricted to boys 14 years of age and older, and over 5 feet tall. The target was set at 150 boys. Additional Rotarians joined the committee: Charlie Jackson, Fred Pense, and Ken Moncrieff. Dr. Robert Wallace, Rotarian and Principal of Queen’s University, also joined the committee. Rotary had by then committed an additional $1,898.25.

In 1944, Rotary supported another initiative with $25 for the Sea Cadet Hockey Team. Also, the expenses of the Dance Committee were underwritten up to $25! Rotary contributed $500 for musical instruments for the Corps’ Bugle Band and $500 for rain slickers. A permanent location for the Corps was under consideration: the Richardson Building, but the Rotary Board of Directors didn’t approve this investment. At the May 23, 1944, meeting eight cadets were named by the commanding officer for discharge, based on absenteeism or disobedience of orders. Their names were in the minutes (but not in this article as some may still be alive) and the committee endorsed the recommendation.

The band in the early 1950s.

The beginning of the end of Rotary’s involvement started at the March 9, 1944 meeting when three representatives of the Navy League of Canada proposed that the Kingston Rotary Sea Cadet Corps be merged into their organization. The termination of Rotary’s involvement was recorded on the back of an envelope: literally. On February 2, 1945: “Motion by Dr. H.B. Clarke, seconded by Col. LeRoy Grant, that the Navy League accept the Sea Cadet Corps in accordance with agreement and transfer of assets from Rotary Club to Kingston Branch of Navy League”. As with many of Rotary’s projects, we gave it a solid start and handed it off to the community to be sustained.

An added note: Chris Varley, President/Historian HMCS CATARAQUI Association, found reference to Rotary Island as a summer camp for the Kingston Rotary Sea Cadet Corps. Where was it? His sleuthing found the expert Doug Bickerton, a long-serving member of the Gananoque Rotary Club, who gave us the background to Rotary Island. McDonald Island, one of the Admiralty Group, had been purchased by his Rotary club in 1940 with an eye towards establishing a Rotary International camp for children and renamed it Rotary Island. As that ambition didn’t materialize, the club then loaned the island to the Corps to establish a summer camp which was officially opened on 16 July 1943. But not for long, as Doug reports that Rotary Island reverted to public use “following the war”. Currently the Sea Cadet Corps coexists with the Navy League, based at HMCS Cataraqui.

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