Surrey’s oldest and largest cadet squadron is searching for a new home after a local church closed the door to them, due to COVID-19 concerns.
The 767 Dearman unit needs enough space in the North Surrey area to accomodate a growing squadron of more than 225 Royal Canadian Air Cadets, plus officers and volunteers.
The pandemic forced the cancellation of all squadron activities until the end of summer, and now a potential fall restart is in jeopardy.
For 40 years the squadron gathered at the Whalley branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, which was demolished in 2019 to make way for a $312-million Veterans Village project.
“The Whalley Legion has been a huge supporter of our program,” said squadron captain Kevin Antrobus. “With the pending development of the Legion Veterans Village, we had to find a temporary home. After exhausting options with the City of Surrey and the Surrey School District, we started contacting local church groups. In September 2018, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was gracious in allowing us the use of their facility.”
Amid the pandemic, Antrobus said church officials have decided the squadron can no longer use their facility.
“We appreciate all that the church has done for us over the past two years,” he said. “We are now in search of a new location.”
Squadron membership has more than doubled over the past two years, Antrobus noted.
“We are the second largest cadet unit in B.C. and are very active with cadet activities,” he said. “Our squadron hosts a number of ‘optional training’ programs” — activities such as music, biathlon, marksmanship, first aid, drill team, photo club, “ground school” pilot training, effective speaking and more.
With up to 250 people in attendance on any given night, it is increasingly difficult for the squadron to find a suitable location. “We generally require a large open space for parades and up to 7 spaces for classes,” Antrobus said.
“Compounding our challenges is the COVID pandemic,” he added. “Cadets is currently cancelled until Aug. 31. The Surrey School District is gradually opening however there are no plans for September for facility rentals. We ourselves are unsure what September will look like for our organization.”
Antrobus has been in command of the squadron for three years.
He said a lot of the cadets are from the inner-city area of Surrey, so raising fees is a last resort.
“Our Tuesday-night gatherings are busy, with around 80 per cent attendance. That’s our main gathering, and what we’re most concerned about.”
Antrobus said “the plan right now” is for the squadron to return to the new Legion once it’s built in a couple of years.
“I still have some concerns about that, to be honest with you, because when we started talking about the project, just before I took over, we had less than 100 kids showing up,” Antrobus said. “And since then we’ve been slowly building up our programs and connecting with the community and ballooned up to 225 cadets now. We have gained so many cadets in the last few years, and now we’re the second largest air cadet squadron in the province.”