MYSTERIES: The 500 Year Old Chinese City on Cape Breton Island

The Story:

Back in 2002, architect, amateur historian and native Cape Bretoner Paul Chiasson went for a hike up Kelly’s Mountain on Cape Dauphin near Sydney on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. What he found has been the subject of dispute ever since with experts squaring off against experts in an attempt to prove or disprove Mr. Chiasson’s contention that Chinese explorers settled there in a “city” in the 15th century during the Ming Dynasty.

Click to access chinese-city-photos.pdf

Stumbling on some old stone ruins – a road, stone walls, and apparently cut stones – he began looking for answers to their origins. Later trips to the Mountain led to the discovery of more intriguing finds including mounds that appeared to be graves and stones with peculiar marking. Pouring over aerial photos and researching books and documents led him to the startling theory that the Chinese colonized Cape Breton.
His work led to the publishing of his controversial book “The Island of Seven Cities: Where the Chinese settled when they discovered North America”. If the success of  book is based on the attention it draws, then this book has been a huge success drawing highly qualified detractors and supporters.
While history shows the Chinese were actively exploring the world by sea at that time, Dean Christianson, an archaeologist and curator with the Nova Scotia Museum, and his team of experts concluded there was nothing on site to support Chiasson’s theory. Others, notably Cedric Bell, have countered these arguments effectively.

Whilst I have had only had a brief account of David Christianson’s visit to Cape Dauphin, he does not appear to have give an explanation as to just a few of the interesting signs of occupation have occurred. How the huge stone walls flanking the plateau access road have arrived. nor why they are on a stone foundation, nor why they have a 61n ditch on their outside, nor why a survey for 100in on either side of the road, could not detect similar sized boulders. ie The boulders had not just been bulldozed out of the way of a boulder strewn environment to form a road. Nor does he explain how an aqueduct could mysteriously appear under the road. Nor who constructed the beautiful stone terraces of the Religious leader’s residence. Nor who constructed the earthwork defenses at the base of the plateau. Nor who constructed the harbours both on the plateau and at the base of the eastern face.

Whatever the answer, Paul Chiasson’s book continues to draw much interest and speculation. Certainly, there is an abundance of information to suggest the early presence of the Chinese in North, Central and South Americas and our Resource and Live Files on this topic includes many existing references as well as numerous actual articles supporting and denigrating Paul Chiasson and his theory of Chinese settlement in Cape Breton.

Is It Worth A Visit?

If you are able to do long hikes and have the time to poke about the mountain and, perhaps, along the “harbour” shores, then a single Chinese artifact of the right date would change the arguments substantially … and make you famous in the process. Apart from that, the place clearly has a wonderful view and there are many geocaches around for those who are so inclined. And, of course, Cape Breton and its highlands are nothing short of awe-inspiring. If you can do it, then consider going.

How to Get there:

The book describes access via the road to the east. A geocache (The Eagle) is located just a short distance from the “city” site. That access may be easier – “Park at the end of Black Head road at N46 17.814 W060 31.132. Follow the trail to the bridge over Grappling Brook (the third of three bridges on the trail) continue on the trail a short distance further and then head straight up the side of the mountain. There is no trail and the brush is fairly thick in places, also be extra careful when climbing over rocky areas as these rocks can come loose rather easily. The cache is hidden at the top of a small rock peak which just barely reaches above the tree tops at the top of the mountain. There is a great view of the North Shore area of the Cabot Trail from the cache site.”

The Book:

Buy the book  “The Island of Seven Cities: Where the Chinese settled when they discovered North America” from Amazon now.

By Art MacKay

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