HMCS Moncton and HMCS Summerside are bound for training in the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa, but it's a side trip with a Nova Scotia connection that's got the crew of one of the vessels excited.

The two Halifax-based ships will participate in training exercises with 20 other nations as part of a mission dubbed Neptune Trident. 

For the commanding officer of the Summerside, Lt.-Cmdr. Paul Smith, a visit to Freetown, Sierra Leone, will be the highlight. 

The city was founded by a group called the Nova Scotian Settlers — Black Loyalists who arrived in Nova Scotia after the American Revolution with the promise of land and a better life.

When that promise didn't pan out as expected, nearly 1,200 men, women and children left Nova Scotia in 1792 to start over in Africa.

Volunteer work

"I look forward to seeing what the culture is like there and seeing the Nova Scotia and Canadian influences," said Smith, the first black naval commander in the Royal Canadian Navy.

While in Freetown, Smith and the crew of HMCS Summerside plan to volunteer at different orphanages, where donated clothes, supplies and cash will be delivered.

"We'll be doing work at a couple of orphanages there and one of the main orphanages supports children who have lost both parents to the Ebola outbreak," Smith said.

Visit to famed Cotton Tree

They will take the children to see Freetown's sacred Cotton Tree, which is where the settlers saw locals praying when they first arrived.

"There is a plaque to the [Nova Scotian] Settlers there and to be able to take the orphans there and explain the significance and connection to Nova Scotia is very exciting to me," said Smith.

The deployment is scheduled to last for more than two months.