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Vernon  

Super stoner was a cadet

Odds are when you think of the Vernon cadet camp, you don't think of Canada's favourite stoner.

But for three summers in the 1950s, Tommy Chong marched proudly in an army uniform through the Vernon military camp.

Chong is well known for his movies with cohort Cheech Marin, as well as his musical career and, of course, being an outspoken marijuana advocate.

Hailing from Edmonton, Chong attended the camp when was 13-15 years old and it had a profound impact on his life.

“It made me a better man,” said Chong, who was an officer training candidate in his final year at the camp.

He left the cadets as a sergeant.

“I loved it. I learned all my bad habits in cadets,” said Chong with a chuckle. “It was a chance to have a vacation and to go somewhere else. You got paid $100 and that bought our school clothes. Back then, 100 bucks was a lot of money.”

Cadets is also where Chong's musical career began.

He met another cadet who played guitar, and their friendship ignited his own musical aspirations.

Chong tells story after story of his summers in the cadets, like the times he ended up in the infirmary due to exhaustion.

“That was when I was 15 and I discovered girls,” Chong said relaying stories of chasing girls until the wee hours of the morning and then getting up at 5 a.m. for cadet training on more than one occasion.

It was in the cadets where Chong learned how to swim, how to shoot a rifle — he earned his marksman badge — and how to march, something he said helped decades later when he was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars.

“It was all the marching training I learned as a kid,” he said. “When I got to the dancing, I could take orders, and that's what I did.”

At one point, Chong was considering a full-time military career, but as we all know, he chose a different direction.

“One of the highlights of my life was when I met a young kid named Patrick Lane,” said Chong.

Yes, 'that' Patrick Lane.

The two met at Kal Beach where the cadets would go for some recreational time.

Chong relays a story of a kid stealing wallets from cadets.

“The cadets would leave their stuff on a towel and Patrick was going around with his own towel and he would throw the towel on the wallet, sit there for a minute and leave with the wallet,” said Chong.

That summer, the two became friends.

Lane is, of course, one of Canada's best known poets. Originally from Nelson, Lane went to high school in Vernon and although he passed away earlier this year, Chong had a chance to reunite with his old friend a few years ago after more than 50 years apart.

In his final summer at the cadet camp, Chong admits to hanging out with a slightly rowdier crowd than his military peers.

“The cadets were too young for me. I hung around with the bad guys and Patrick was one of them. I have a lot of great memories of my time in cadets.”

While Chong may have learned to “drink and chase girls” in his final year with the cadets, he said one thing they did not do was smoke marijuana.

“It was not available, but if it was, I would have been one of the first in line,” he said.



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