100 years of military history

What began as a boyhood journey has come full circle for one former Vernon Military Camp army cadet.

Francois Arseneault was 15 years old in 1978 when he boarded a plane for the first time, traveling first from Calgary to Edmonton and eventually landing at the Kelowna airport.

“There were no school buses back then. It was army trucks and army jeeps. It was army life,” says Arseneault.

His experiences at the camp had a profound effect on him, he says, forever changing his life and saving him when he needed to be saved.

“We craved the discipline, we craved the challenges, we craved the lifestyle. It didn’t matter what our sergeants threw at us, we ate it up,” he says.

Arseneault says cadets is the perfect opportunity for young Canadians to learn about themselves, and it gives them opportunities they might not have otherwise.

Stemming from his love of military life, Arseneault became a collector of camp memorabilia. He spent 20 years researching the history of the camp and gathering material for both his web site and lectures he presented to cadets.

When Lt. Colonel Lyle Johnson asked Arseneault to help them build a Vernon Cadet Camp Museum, Arseneault says it was a natural fit.

“I’ve developed a real penchant for history. My grandfather, father and uncles were all involved in military conflicts. My wife jokes that I’m the accidental historian,” said Arseneault.

The cadet camp museum team wasted no time solidifying its partnership with the Vernon Museum and Archives.

Director and Curator Ron Candy says they had been talking about a military museum for several years and had future plans for what he calls satellite museums around town. Again, it seemed to be a natural fit.

“This is the oldest continuously operating cadet camp in Canada,” said Candy. “The building was built during World War II as a military post office, and it was turned over to the museum a couple years ago.”

Candy says the museum and the cadet camp have always shared a vision for a historical military museum at the site.

On Friday, the refurbished building opened its doors to tell the 63-year history of the Vernon Army Cadet Summer Training Centre, and 100 years of military history in Vernon.

“Vernon has a long military history and the presence of the camp has had a direct effect on the city, socially and economically,” said Candy. “There were times when the population of the camp was greater than that of the city.”

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