500 soldiers descend on Sydney for month-long training exercise

Soldiers and heavy equipment are descending upon Sydney's Open Hearth Park and Slag Quarry for a training exercise until the end of November.

Exercise will take place at Open Hearth Park on Ferry Street and Slag Quarry on Stable Drive

The event is part of Exercise NIHILO SAPPER 2017, an annual engineering training exercise. (Submitted by Warrant Officer Jerry Kean/5 Cdn Div HQ Public Affairs)

Soldiers are descending upon Open Hearth Park in Sydney, N.S., for a training exercise until the end of November.

Soldiers, vehicles and heavy equipment will begin moving in to Open Hearth Park on Ferry Street and Slag Quarry on Stable Drive on Tuesday.

The event is part of Exercise NIHILO SAPPER 2017, an annual engineering exercise that gives members hands-on technical training to make sure the military is ready to deploy soldiers when called upon.

Pop-up town

They'll be constructing a temporary camp through Nov. 4, where soldiers will stay and train.

"We are setting up, essentially, a 500-person small town," said Lt.-Col. Chris Cotton, the commanding officer of the regiment.

"We will have everything you expect in a small town, so accommodations, kitchens, an electricity network, waste disposal network, Wi-Fi."

The exercise prepares members of the Canadian Army's 4 Engineer Support Regiment for real-life operations in disaster relief or overseas missions.

The regiment is often the first on the ground to establish a base of operations.

Last year's exercise took place in Bathurst, N.B.

Community projects

The soldiers will do a number of community projects in Cape Breton, including building bridges, repairing buildings and restoring trails.

One of those is a trail at Fortress Louisbourg that was originally built by the British in the 18th century.

"Parks Canada is looking to reopen that and make it accessible to the public," said Cotton, adding that some of the soldiers will live at the fortress while working on the trail.

The regiment will also help replace a roof on a century-old stone church in Victoria Mines, just outside Sydney.

A community group is fundraising to restore St. Alphonsus Church as a tourist attraction.

Public tour of camp

"Reaching out to non-profit organizations to assist them in some work or required refurbishing meets not only their needs, but meets our needs," said Cotton. 

On Nov. 12, the public will be able to tour the Sydney camp and see some of the equipment being used in the training exercise.

The camp will be taken down between Nov. 20 and 24, before the regiment heads back to its home base in New Brunswick, CFB Gagetown.