Birchall Leadership Award

Alumni Association Mission

To bring together our alumni and other members for their mutual benefit, support, mentorship and camaraderie; advance education by establishing and maintaining scholarships, bursaries and prizes; support and promote training and leadership programs by providing funding for programs and initiatives for the benefit of the Canadian Military Colleges to grow and develop Canada’s future leaders; establish, preserve, protect and commemorate monuments and significant heritage sites at the Canadian Military Colleges; enhance, preserve and promote the experience, history, traditions and culture of the Canadian Military Colleges; and to promote and advocate for the foregoing.

Supporting Canada’s Future Leaders

The Birchall Leadership Award is presented by the Royal Military Colleges Club of Canada to honour the memory of Air Commodore Leonard J. Birchall CM, OBE, DFC, OO, CD. This extraordinary leader was a distinguished RMC ex-cadet, RCAF career officer, former Commandant of RMC Kingston, Honorary Colonel of 413 Squadron and until his death on September 10, 2004, the Vice-Patron of the RMC Club.

The Birchall Leadership Award commemorates Birchall’s unique leadership quality – the ability to stand up in the face of difficulty or adversity to promote the welfare and safety of those under his command.

The award seeks to carry on this tradition of leadership by honouring its recipients in the name of one of Canada’s finest leaders. Nominees and recipients are selected as persons demonstrating the qualities of leadership (integrity, responsibility, moral courage) that Birchall demonstrated and taught during his career. The award has been presented across the country since 2005.

Air Commodore Leonard Birchall in Canso cockpit

Air Commodore Leonard Birchall in Canso cockpit

Birchall Leadership Award Recipients

2005 – Mr. Art Smith – Calgary
2006 – General (Ret’d) John de Chastelain – Calgary
2007 – Major (Ret’d) Danny McLeod – Toronto
2008 – General (Ret’d) Ray Henault – Winnipeg
2009 – General (Ret’d) Rick Hillier – Calgary
2010 – Mr. Chris Alexander – Kingston

2011 – Task Force Afghanistan – Edmonton
2012 – Vice Admiral (Ret’d) Larry Murray – Halifax
2013 – Senator Joe Day – Kingston
2014 – Senator Roméo Dallaire – Saint-Jean sur Richelieu
2015 – His Worship Mayor John Williams – Trenton
2017 – Astronaut Chris Hadfield – Hamilton

Air Commodore Leonard J. Birchall CM, OBE, DFC, OO, CD

On April 4, 1942 then-Squadron Leader Birchall was piloting a Canso flying boat over the Indian Ocean when he sighted and reported an advancing Japanese fleet intent on attacking Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The Allied forces’ response to Birchall’s call successfully blunted the force of the attack and preserved the British fleet for future action.

However, Birchall’s Canso and its crew of eight were shot down and he, along with five survivors, spent the next three and a half years as Japanese prisoners of war. As a senior officer among the POWs, Birchall’s true leadership skills came to the forefront. He confronted his captors, often risking his own life and suffering severe beatings, in order to preserve the morale, dignity and safety of lower rank prisoners of war. His example inspired others to do the same also at grave personal risk.

Air Commodore Birchall graduated from Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston in 1937. He became one of the longest-serving Royal Canadian Air Force career officers, and during his career served as commandant of RMC.

Air Commodore Birchall mentored and shared his thoughts on leadership and taught the importance of: integrity (which gave the confidence and courage for others to follow); responsibility (to not blame others but to shoulder criticism when required); and moral courage (to rely on one’s sense of right and wrong).


The Birchall Leadership Award is recognized through a bas-relief sculpture including an engraved brass plaque and an inscription of the name of the award recipient, accompanied by the attached description of the award on a framed scroll.