CADET MOVEMENT OF 1889.
The cadet movement of 1889, in Montreal, in some respects, resembled the Volunteer movement at the time of the Trent excitement. It is true that there was no war agitation to foster the movement, but, nevertheless, there was as keenly developed a military fever among the boys and youths of Montreal, in 1889, as there had been among the men of the good, loyal city in 1862. Cadet corps sprang into existence everywhere, and boys of all classes hastened to apply for enrolment. Some of the cadet corps organized on paper never materialized in fact; not a few which actually passed through the initial stages of organization had brief meteoric existences, and succumbed to the inevitable difficulties which beset their paths.
For the origin of the movement we must glance back a bit. After the old High School Cadet Rifles, of Major Barnjum’s days, had been allowed to lapse, the school authorities, with the assistance of some of the masters who had a superficial knowledge of the rudiments of drill, tried to keep up a little drill instruction, just sufficient to march the boys in and out of class, etc. The Northwest Rebellion of 1885, aroused the military spirit of the lads and increased their interest in drill. There was some talk of reorganizing the cadets, but nothing then came of it. About this time there chanced to be added to the staff of masters an enthusiastic militia officer in the person of Mr. R. J, Elliott, a lieutenant in the 6th Fusiliers. He fostered the military spirit of the boy’s considerably, and ultimately offered a medal for competition between the un-uniformed school companies. In time, Mr. Elliott left the school to enter the legal profession, but his mantle as the patron of the military spirit in the big school, fell upon the shoulders of another of the masters, Mr. Gregor, at that time a subaltern in the Montreal Garrison Artillery. In 1887 the military element of the school faculty received an accession in the person of Mr. Macaulay, a Scottish volunteer, who, soon after obtaining his appointment in the High School, took a commission provisionally in the 6th Fusiliers. Lieutenant Macaulay and Lieutenant Gregor divided the drill instruction at the school between them, and entered upon the work with all the enthusiasm of young officers. There was some keen rivalry too between the two drill instructors and their boys. Each instructor had a battalion of boys, un-uniformed and unarmed, of course, under his charge, and there was much interest in the competition for the Elliott medal on the 20th of June, 1889. Much about the drill competitions at the High School got into the papers, and there were also frequent references to the recently reorganized cadet corps at St. Mary’s (Jesuit) College Cadets, which had been taken hold of by Captain Earocque, of the 65th Regiment. Arrangements were well under way for the reorganization of the High School Cadets when the school term ended, the matter having been taken enthusiastically in hand by Mr. (later Captain) Macaulay.
Just about this time Major Lydon chanced to be talking to some youthful friends, lads who were in business, and suggested that they should form themselves into an independent cadet corps. He added that if his young friends would get the boys he would look after them.
Major Fred. S. Lydon was then, and for many years had been, the indefatigable adjutant and drill instructor of the 5th Royal Scots of Canada, and loved soldiering and especially drill with all the ardour of an old King’s Own (60th) Rifleman. The lad to whom he especially addressed himself, is now Captain Stuart, of the First Prince of Wales Regiment of Fusiliers, the regiment formed a few years ago by the amalgamation of the old 1st Prince of Wales Rifles and the 6th Fusiliers. Major Lydon’s suggestion was responsible for the organization of the Highland Cadets, but how it was effected, we will leave unexplained for the present.
The Cadet movement was more an idea than a fact as yet. It needed some impetus, and this it was to get. During the summer, Montreal was invaded by a very smart cadet corps from the public schools of Guelph, Ontario, under Sergeant Bell, formerly of A Battery, R. C. A. And a smart and very attractive corps it was, including a company of neatly uniformed girls as well as boys. The western youngsters gave an exhibition of drill and callisthenics which completely took the city by storm. And the local cadet movement received the necessary impetus. The organization of the High School Cadets, on a stronger basis than ever, was easily effected after the opening of the new term; the St. Mary’s College Cadets were more enthusiastically’ supported by the boys of the big college of Bleury street than the ever were; Lady Alexander Russell’s Own were reorganized at St. John’s School. Private schools and public schools throughout the city undertook to organize cadet corps as the correct thing. Major Thos. Atkinson, adjutant of the 6th Fusiliers, besides reorganizing Lady Alexander Russell’s Own, organized an independent corps, which had about two years’ existence, and which was known as the Montreal Cadet Corps. Cadet companies by the score were promoted.
Main Source: The Montreal Highland Cadets, Chapter III; by Captain Ernest J. Chambers.