Featured Squadron of the Month

257 Parallel RCACS Squadron Crest

257 Parallel Squadron

Chartered: February 15, 1943
Status:  Active
Community: Ladysmith, BC

The Squadron Crest was first unveiled in 2008, based on a design by FSgt. Christopher Staples and completed by a local graphic artist.

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Squadron History

During the war years, 1939-1945 at many high schools across Canada the Air Cadet program was introduced as part of the High School curriculum. In 1943, at the Ladysmith High School, Cadets met for the last two periods on Mondays and would then march to the Agricultural Hall for drill and range practice as there was no gym at the High School.  At times, cadets were required to wear their uniforms to school, and for a short period, met in the evenings at the Ladysmith Armouries to practice drill and range.  The Cadets learned about aero engines, marksmanship, and meteorology.

The purpose of the Squadron was to train young men in preparation for entrance to the Air Force.  In Ladysmith, the driving force behind the formation of the Squadron was Mr. H.A. Thicke, the Ladysmith High School shop teacher.  Mr. Thicke went on to become Flying Officer Thicke and served as the Squadron’s Commanding Officer for many years.

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Squadron 257 Charter

Squadron 257 received its charter from the Air Cadet League of Canada on February 15th, 1943. 

As the Squadron was in need of a drill hall. The Ladysmith Agricultural Hall became home to the Squadron (and remains so, to this day).

By 1949, with 66 Cadets enrolled, the Squadron was recognized by the Strathcona Trust as the only Squadron in BC to have met all requirements under their terms of reference and received a substantial cash grant. The Squadron was then sponsored by the Ladysmith Lion’s Club.

The first Cadet from 257 Parallel Squadron to receive his Wings was Raymond Conti. In 1949, a special presentation ceremony took place at the Cenotaph, which was then located in Ladysmith at the corner of 1st Avenue and Gatacre.

Ray would go on to become F.O. “Digger” Conti. He was 1 of 4 flight officers from BC to join the 439 Squadron based in Uplands, Ottawa to train on the new F-86 Fighter Sabre Jets. F.O. Conti became a member of the 439 Sabre Tooth Tiger Squadron and made aviation history on the 30th May 1952 flying the first F-86 mission identified as Operation Leap Frog from Uplands to Luffenham England. The mission travelled from Uplands Ottawa to Bagotville, Goose Bay, Greenland and Iceland finally landing at Luffenham to join 410 and 441 Squadrons. Sadly, F.O. Conti would later disappear over the North Sea while on a training mission. His memory lives on today in the Town of Ladysmith history books as a true local hero.

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In the late 1940’s girls were finally allowed to join the Squadron. The first “Cadette” flight was formed in 1950 and although Cadettes were not formerly recognized by the Canadian Forces until the 1970’s, they excelled in all areas such as Range, Drill and Marching.

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In the 1980’s the Ladysmith Agricultural Society was the owner of the Agricultural Hall. Unfortunately, the Society was failing. A group of Cadet parents and community members intervened, resurrected the Society, and sold the building to the Town of Ladysmith for $1 with the proviso that the Ladysmith Air Cadets would always have a home.

In 1989 the 257 RCACS Parent Committee was formed as an Incorporated Society in the Province of British Columbia to manage the affairs of the Squadron as the modern Sponsoring Committee.

In the 1990’s the 808 Air Force Wing Nanaimo (also involved in the Squadron Sponsorship), provided the funds to upgrade the Agricultural Hall to meet new earthquake and building codes as the structure was falling into disrepair. This generous gesture literally saved the Agricultural Hall as it was slated for certain demolition.

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On September 22nd, 2013, 257 Parallel Squadron commemorated it’s 70th Anniversary with a giant Vancouver Island Wing Parade. The event was attended by all eight Vancouver Island Wing Squadrons, with a parade down the main street of Parksville, concluding at the Agricultural Hall. The Squadron was incredibly honoured to welcome Rear Admiral William Truelove, Commander, Maritime Forces Pacific, Joint Task Force Pacific as the Reviewing Officer, along with dignitaries: Colonel Jim Benninger, Base Commander, 19 Wing Comox B.C, Commander W.S. Bates, Commanding Officer Regional Cadet Support Unit Victoria B.C, Major Aaron Macluskie, 410 Tactical Fighter (Operational Training) Squadron at 4 Wing Cold Lake Alberta (Keynote Speaker), His Worship, Robert Hutchins, Mayor of Ladysmith, Gary Phillips, President Royal Canadian Legion Branch #17, Tracy Gillis, President 808 Air Force Wing Association, Michael Symons, Air Cadet League, B.C. Provincial Committee and Terri Slater, Air Cadet League, B.C. Provincial Committee, Director.

The Squadron also received congratulatory letters from Col. Chris Hadfield (retired) and The Honourable Judith Guichon, OBC Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia:

There are many facts about the Squadron, which are well documented, but the true meaning of being a Cadet is best summed up by the recollections of cadets themselves. The following is an excerpt from Ian Wyndlow, who was a 257 Parallel Squadron Cadet from 1979 to 1982. Ian earned his power and glider licences through the Air Cadet program: Ian recalls:

“My memories are of the seasonal “fam” (familiarization) flights, where we actually went gliding at the Nanaimo airport and got to take turns as a passenger in the tow plane. And of course, the summer camps provided life-long memories. Enduring the first year of summer “basic training” where we learned to make a bed so tightly that a quarter would bounce off of the sheets, we learned to spit-shine our shoes until they gleamed, learned to iron straight creases in shirt sleeves and pant legs, using soap in the inside to make the seams extra- crisp. Getting into mischief and having to stand in a half-crouch position against the wall until we understood the importance of going to bed quietly. All these lessons were lessons in discipline and taking pride in a job well done.

Ladysmith’s CO, Captain Brown would give us a yearly sermon at annual inspection about not being a “Chicken Shit squadron” and would drive home the theme of the benefits of discipline each year. They were words of wisdom and experience, that I have found myself paraphrasing from time to time on our 11-year-old.

Other memories of summer camps were the friendships that developed during time-off – such as the time we procured inner tubes from a gas station in Princeton one weekend and walked up stream along the side of the road for miles before floating back down the river. Summer hailstorms, my first solo in a glider when I gained 2000′ in altitude after releasing from the tow plane and found myself literally soaring with the eagles in a thermal. I have a favourite photo of my dad and I in a Cessna 152 after our first flight together, with me piloting. I had heard stories of him flying over to Richmond to visit my mom and having to be back to the farm in Yellow Point in time to milk the cows. I was thinking of that when I circled over the farmhouse and saw my parents come out to wave as I flew my first cross-country flight from Victoria to Nanaimo, to Tofino and back, in 1982.

The CO, Captain Brown would host Christmas parties on the second floor of the building he owned, above the old library. He had coin operated pinball machines and would leave the door of the coin mechanism open for us to be able to play over and over with the same quarter. (“Twister” was also a very popular game at those parties, when enough girls would agree to play!)

Another highlight of being in Ladysmith Air Cadets was the shooting range in the basement of the Aggie Hall, and the WW II vintage “Ansel” single firing .22 calibre rifles we practiced on. We would form-up upstairs and then march down the back of the hall and round the stairs under the foundation of the hall, where old mattresses were set up on a plywood platform and we would get issued our little box of .22 shells and a page with about 10 targets on it. After the safety rules were explained, we would scramble, half crouching along the dirt that had been scooped out deeper in areas and mounded up in others to form passageways to the far end of the building’s crawl space, where we hung our targets, amongst massive pieces of wood that were literally riddled with thousands of rounds of lead. We would then scramble back to the mattresses and get ready to pick up our guns, load, aim and squeeze off each of our 10 shots. When we eventually got good enough to form a team and go to Powell River for the target competition, it was another overnight adventure. In the weeks preceding the contest somehow some real target rifles appeared, and we actually got to practice steadily with them, and use a field scope to check our firing pattern, thus avoiding the scramble back and forth through the mounds of dirt, while trying not to scuff up our boots and uniforms too much. I kept my best target and have it somewhere in a box of memories in storage.”

In 2023 the Squadron commemorated its 80th Anniversary with a very special Annual Ceremonial Review. The ceremony was well attended with Lieutenant Commander Darryll Dudley, CD as the Reviewing Officer. A commemorative coin was struck, and a special Event Program was produced.

Nowadays. Ladysmith Cadets enjoy a wide variety of activities such as aviation and flight training, range, sports, first aid training, survival camping and community service. Cadets learn leadership, responsibility, effective speaking, and travel throughout the province and nationally, attending Summer Training Camps and in staff positions.

Commanding Officers:

Up to 2005 (start date unknown)Captain John O’Reilly
2006-2008Captain Karen Graczyk
2009-2012Captain Megan Anderson
2013-2015Captain Karen Graczyk
2016-2019Captain Karen Peel
2020-2022Captain Tianna Carlow
2023-PresentCaptain Shane Arthur

The ACFBC extends our very special thanks to Cathy Gillroy, the past SSC Chair of 257 Parallel Squadron Sponsoring Committee for her contributions to our Feature Squadron of the month presentation.

Please visit the squadron’s website at: https://www.facebook.com/257parallelsquadron/ for more current information about the squadron.

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