Napanee Sea Cadets face challenges presented by fire head on

An early morning fire alleged to have been caused by arson destroyed the Lennox Agricultural Memorial Community Centre, often referred to as the “Old Arena,” in Napanee. Photo by Logan Cadue/Kingstonist.

When a fire allegedly started by Kingston resident Jay Nelson Bradley in October 2023 destroyed the Lennox Agricultural Memorial Community Centre, it took with it the home of the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets (RCSCC) Napanee.

While it was hard to foresee what the near future would look like for the Sea Cadets, immediate commitments were made to continue the RCSCC program locally and to rebuild the organization — even as work to extinguish the fires was still ongoing.

Six months later, the Napanee Sea Cadets have remained active, operating out of Greater Napanee’s Selby Hall while staff try to rebuild the program from the ground up. 

Lieutenant (N) Andy Ashworth, Commanding Officer of RCSCC Napanee, said with the Department of National Defence behind them along with the Navy League of Canada, he was reasonably confident that those promises that were made could be fulfilled.

The speed with which support came, however, was stunning according to Ashworth. 

Due to that, the organization was able to continue, without skipping a beat, in many ways. 

“While the fire was still burning it was reported up the line to the big boss up in Ottawa and, on the same day, she came back and said, ‘we will make sure we will give every support to to keep the program going,'” Ashworth said. 

“An indication of that determination was we actually had our regular planned training night that following Thursday the same week as the fire.”

There was also assistance offered immediately from the community, including permitting the use of Selby Hall and the fire department stepping up to store equipment that was salvaged from the blaze. 

While support was there from the jump, Ashworth added that continuing the program in the wake of the fire did require a ton of hard work, both emotionally and physically, from himself and other staff. Changes had to be made as the fire not only shuttered access to the facility they’ve used for many years, but they also lost a lot of their supplies to the blaze. 

Ashworth said while that’s undeniably a challenge, it also presents an opportunity to reimagine the program and modernize certain elements that simply weren’t being considered before being forced to by the circumstances.

“It’s taking some time to get the equipment back, but it’s also given us a chance to hit the reset button… Refresh the program and update our offerings to the cadets, in some respects it’s been a speed bump in other respects it’s been a huge opportunity,” Ashworth said. 

The lieutenant said it probably would have taken years to revisit some of the arcane tools and techniques that they were still using just simply due to inertia.

Now it’s allowing cadets to be involved in the reimagining of the program, and help push it towards what they want to learn and participate in. 

Ashworth said the participation numbers have dropped off this year, with some prospective cadets lamenting the loss of certain programs – especially the marksmanship program that RCSCC Napanee can not provide at this time – but those who remain involved have continued to find enjoyment in the program.

Selby Hall has not been perfect for the program, but Ashworths said it’s the best they can do at this time and they’re grateful to have it. He hopes they can remain there longer, and continue to adapt to the space.

“It’s working, we can make it work and the longer we’re there, we will make it work better, because we’re still learning about the space,” Ashworth said. 

The past six months wouldn’t have been possible without the community, and the Napanee Sea Cadets are hopeful they can continue to receive that community support as they work towards rebuilding. 

The program is currently undergoing its year-end review and, in a Facebook post, said they’re proud of everything that’s been done in the face of adversity. 

“We are looking forward to showing ‘the boss’ all that the cadets, staff, and Navy League have managed to achieve,” reads RCSCC Napanee’s post.

“These achievements would not have been possible without all of the help we have received from the local community and community organisations. This support has been overwhelming and we cannot thank everyone enough.”

Owen Fullerton is a Kingston-based reporter with the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI). The LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.

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