Scottish soldiers to canoe from Montreal to New York

A parade with the pipes and drums of the Black Watch 3rd battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland. EPA/JOEY KELLY

Two-and-a-half centuries after their military ancestors fought and died in two 18th century North American wars, members of the British army’s Scottish regiment will embark on a canoe trip from Montreal to New York City that will trace the water route many of their forbearers travelled.

Sixteen soldiers in the Royal Regiment of Scotland are scheduled to leave Montreal on Aug. 30 and travel south via Quebec’s Richelieu River, Lake Champlain, Lake George and the Hudson River.

They plan to arrive in Manhattan on Sept. 10, in time for ceremonies marking the 15th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

Along the way, they’ll camp at New York historic sites where Scottish soldiers serving alongside the British fought during the American Revolution and the French and Indian War, part of the Seven Years’ War.

Maj. Scotty Menzies, the officer leading the expedition, said the 547-kilometre journey will be part training exercise, part history lesson.

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“It’s a way we can take a soldier from a known environment and expose him to the unknown,” said Menzies, a member of the regiment’s Glasgow-based battalion.

“Take them out of their comfort zone and educate them on the history of the regiment.”

British units conduct similar exercises elsewhere, but it will be the first held in North America, Menzies said.

Unlike the redcoats who had to haul canoes and boats over rugged terrain between waterways, the Scots will use vehicles to portage their canoes and gear.

The soldiers will be covering water and ground that weren’t welcoming to Scotsmen in the 1700s.

At Ticonderoga, on Lake Champlain’s southern end, the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment, known as the Black Watch, suffered more than 500 killed and wounded while assaulting enemy positions on July 6, 1758, during the French and Indian War.

At Stillwater, on the upper Hudson, a Scottish regiment was among the British force that surrendered to the Americans after the Battles at Saratoga in 1777, during the Revolutionary War.

The expedition will end at the USS Intrepid, a World War II aircraft carrier that serves as a floating museum in Manhattan.

After the Sept. 11 ceremony, the soldiers, most of them veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will head to Brooklyn, scene of the Battle of Brooklyn, fought on Aug. 27, 1776.

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The two Highland regiments fared much better there, with the Revolutionary War’s largest battle ending in a victory for British forces.

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