Island of 7 Cities Exposed

The Island of 7 Cities Exposed

Andrew Hanam

With the release of the book, The Island of Seven Cities in May of 2006, author Paul Chiasson has proposed a radical new theory of the history of the eastern seaboard of Canada. Using aerial photography and onsite photographs along with a unique interpretation of conventional history Mr. Chiasson suggests that over 600 years ago Chinese settlers established a flourishing city on a remote mountaintop, over looking the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Dauphin on the Island of Cape Breton. He also proposes that Cape Breton is the location of the legendary Island of Seven Cities.

Professionals familiar with the Cape Dauphin site have both read and reviewed the information in this new book. For my part I am the Crown Lands Forester for this area and am familiar with the evidences Mr. Chiasson offers in his book.

A summary of the physical evidence that Mr. Chiasson offers in his book to support his claim that the ruins of an ancient Chinese city exists at Cape Dauphin is as follows:

  1. Page 184 – an aerial photo he reports to be from flight line year 1929 and states to show the outline of the wall of an abandoned city high up in the mountain at Cape Dauphin. This photo is the focal point of his entire theory and he offers it as major proof in his media interviews.
  2. Page 258 – two aerial photos on which Mr. Chiasson has made some interpretation of his own. He claims that the first photo shows the ancient roadway of the settlement from 600 years ago, the clearing on which the ancient town site actually existed, and remains of the ancient city wall. The second photo is reported to show ancient roads and courtyards of an abandoned village westward of the city. These courtyards are implied to be a second settlement that was built as the colony grew in numbers over a period of years.
  3. Page 260 – an aerial photo he reports as showing courtyards of a second ancient village westward of the alleged city ruins.
  4. A number of onsite photos taken by the author to show rocks and features of the site he claims supports his theory.
  5. Mention of charcoal found on the site that is linked to 600 year-old smelters by Cedric Bell.

These are the total of the actual physical evidences that Mr. Chiasson offers to the general public as proof that the ruins of an ancient Chinese settlement built in the 1400’s or earlier exists on the mountain at Cape Dauphin. The remainder of the book deals with personal accounts and the author’s interpretation of historical information he tries to relate to his reported ruins.

Mr. Chiasson states in his book that he acquired the aerial photography for the area from 1929 up until the present and carefully examined these to discover information on the Cape Dauphin site. He uses some of these aerial photos in his book.

 A review of the aerial photography of this location across the various years will assist in a proper understanding of what actually exists on the mountain at Cape Dauphin. The early aerial photos clearly show an area of relatively even aged softwood forest interspersed by upland bogs (both treed and open), small pothole lakes or ponds, granite knolls and rocky barrens. Steep ravines, which flow both toward the Bras d’Or Lakes on one side and the St. Ann’s Bay on the other, cut deeply into the edges of this forest. It is flanked by the mixed and hardwood stands on the steep side slopes of the mountain.

Aerial photos from 1931

1931a - tn

1931b - tn

1931c - tn

1931d - tn

Photo a – Close up of partial aerial photo A3472-79 from 1931. Shows site where the Book The Island of Seven Cities claims there is the remains of a city wall and an ancient Chinese town site. The photo does not indicate any such evidence exists. S-turn in the brook is used as a reference point. This S-turn is just below the site of the alleged city ruins and will be reference in additional photos.

Photo b – Full view of aerial photo A3472-79 from 1931 flight line series. No evidence of roads or city wall.

Photo c – Full view of aerial photo A3471-16 from 1931 flight line year. This is the area on the western side of the Cape Dauphin site and referenced in the book The Island of Seven Cities to show alleged ancient roads and remains of ancient Chinese villages. Lynn Lake is seen in the photo and is used as a reference point. The white colored areas are areas of exposed weathered bedrock. The photo does not indicate any evidence of roads or remains of ancient village courtyards.

Photo d - Close up of portion of aerial photo A3471-16 showing the area south and south west of Lynn Lake where the reported roads and Chinese village courtyards are alleged to exist. There is no evidence of either seen in the photo.

A review of the Fernow Report of 1912 (Forest Conditions of Nova Scotia by B. E. Fernow), published by the Federal Government Commission of Conservation, Canada, indicates the entire mountain range of Kelly’s Mountain including the area of Cape Dauphin as being classified (in 1910) as young regenerating second growth softwood forest. It is most likely that this forest regenerated after major fires of the 1880’s of which there are newspaper accounts. The importance of this is that we would not expect to find any major logging roads in this area and a review of the earliest aerial photos and maps do not indicate any roads on the mountain at Cape Dauphin. The nearest road on the Kelly’s Mountain range is an old settlement road passing over the mountain from Kelly’s Cove over to the Oyster Pond area on the Englishtown side and would be best described as a cart track. This road / track is a few kilometers southwest of the area that Mr. Chiasson deals with in his book. The earliest aerial photos also do not indicate any evidences of the outline Mr. Chiasson reports as an abandoned city wall. The feature that Mr. Chiasson reports in his book on page 184 is first seen in the aerial photos of 1953. In fact the aerial photo in his book is from the flight line year of 1953 and not 1929 as he states in his book and media interviews. By comparing the aerial photography of the early years of this site we can definitely state that the feature Mr. Chiasson reports as the ruins of an abandoned city wall came into existence between the flight line year of 1947 (no evidence seen on the early photos) and 1953 when the feature first appears.

The outline shown in the 1953 photo (reference number A13710 – 102) is actually a firebreak or fire line road constructed with bulldozers on July 29, 1952 by Mr. Rindress MacKenzie and Mr. MacAulay of the Nova Scotia Department of Highways to access, surround and contain a forest fire at this Cape Dauphin location. The history of this fire is well documented locally including in the Beaton Institute of the Cape Breton University where newspaper articles of the fire are kept. Journalists and other witnesses of the day reported that the firebreak was constructed in very difficult terrain amid extremely rocky conditions and was built to a width of up to forty feet although it probably averaged about 20 feet or 7 meters, all around the outside edge of the fire to prevent it from spreading. The aerial photo shows the site approximately one year after this forest fire and the width of the firebreak is easily seen in the aerial photos as exposed mineral soil. This is the feature seen in the 1953 aerial photos of this location and pictured in Mr. Chiasson’s book on page 184 and again on page 186. When viewed in stereovision this 1953 flight line shows that the fire killed almost all the standing trees within the bounds of the firebreak surrounding the fire site although small patches were left untouched. The dead trees would eventually fall to the ground and new growth would regenerate on the site.

A second forest fire occurred at this location on July 24, 1968 and we are fortunate to have aerial photos flown the following year on July 10, 1969. Also, we have the fire report prepared by Mr. Reginald Wyer of the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forests, after this fire. The 1969 aerial photo (reference number 68 – NS – A 30205) shows the detail of this new fire on the site. Again firebreaks were constructed with bulldozers around the fire site, which consisted as an area along the western portion of the 1953 fire location and a second spot fire just south of this where wind had caused the fire to jump over the fire lines. The portion of the fire located in the old 1953 fire site burned in young regenerating trees, grasses and shrubs (mentioned as the old burn in the fire report) while the reminder of the fire burned in older trees and brush which can be easily seen as dead and blackened in this photo. Also the 1969 aerial photo shows that an area of the 1953 fire did not regenerate back into trees but had converted to a small rocky barren area on the upper side slope of the site, inhabited mainly by low ground plant species interspersed with scattered young trees where suitable growing conditions could be found, common to fire barren areas. This is the large clearing Mr. Chiasson claims is the old town site in his book and it does not exist in the 1953 or earlier photos. The 1969 photo also shows that a narrow trail was bulldozed westward to reach a small pond the fire fighters used as a water source to set up their fire pumps. This trail does not appear on earlier photos. 

On page 258 on his book there are portions of two aerial photos from the 1990’s. On these photos he has made some interpretation of the features to support his theory. The original photos of these flight lines are in color. 

8a small

9a small

1993 - 8a

1993 - 9a

In the upper photo what he has labeled as “remains of wall” at the top of photo is the edge of the old 1953 firebreak. The contrasting difference in the forest stand ages highlights the edge effect. Toward the bottom of this photo what he has labeled as “remains of wall” is a portion of the firebreak from the 1968 fire. The labeled “town site “ is the small fire barren on the upper slopes of the site resulting from the 1952 fire.  It is interesting that the light colored area seen in the lower right hand side of the photo in the book has also reverted to a small fire barren after the 1968 fire (this was the portion that had jumped over the first fire lines and noted as a spot fire in the above description of the 1968 fire).  This photo is of the site 41 years after the 1952 fire and 25 years after the 1968 fire. What he casually labels as “road continues” is a view of newly upgraded road construction carried on in 1989.

The lower photo is a most interesting one for a researcher examining the validity of Mr. Chiasson’s book.  It shows road and drill site construction completed in the summer of 1989 and is westward of the area seen in the upper photo. The old 1968 pond from which firefighters set up their pumps can be seen at the edge of each photo on page 258 of his book, just above the road to give orientation to the reader. The squared-in areas the author has drawn are to highlight the small clearings at the end of the branch roads so clearly defined and written about in his text on pages 257 and 259. This is the reported agriculture village west of the city ruins. The section labeled, as “courtyards” is identical to the area on page 260 of his book and is implied as a second village area on page 261 of his text. The reader is lead to believe that the intent of the author, through both text and photos, is to convey the idea of two separate village areas, (the courtyards of page 260 of his book and also the clearings at the ends of the branch roads seen in this photo).

In the summer of 1989, Kelly Rock Limited constructed an access road across the old fire access area and further on out along the mountain. They were proposing to develop a large ocean-side aggregate quarry at the Kelly’s Mountain area. This was one of the roads they constructed to carry on drill testing of the rock quality of the mountain and to carry on various other testing such as ground water well monitoring. Kelly Rock Limited rebuilt the old fire access road to the small fire pond of the 1968 fire, constructed new roads west of the old fire sites and cleared the ground with bulldozers in order for the consulting engineers and other professionals to set up monitoring drill well sites at the locations Mr. Chiasson reports these in his book to be ancient courtyards of a village related to the alleged Chinese city. Details of this construction work along with the archaeological report prepared at the time are contained in the Environmental Assessment Report prepared by Nolan, Davis and Associates, dated November 1989 and registered with the Nova Scotia Government. In my employment with the Province of Nova Scotia I monitored this project. For this article I have consulted with Lynn Baechler MSc.. who was the hydro-geologist on this project. These new roads and drill sites do not appear in the aerial photography until the 1993 flight line.

The aerial photo on page 260 of his book has the photo reference number of A3471 – 24 and is from June 15, 1931 (the reference number can be seen on the photo of page 260 but his reference number listed in his illustrations at the back of the book is A3471 – 15 and most likely is a typo error). This aerial photo and all other photos of this location show a portion of the large granite outcrop that exists on the St. Ann’s Bay side of the Cape Dauphin area. The features, which Mr. Chiasson reports as a second area of courtyards, are the exposed bedrock areas of this location. The actual site is a high granite knoll clearly seen in aerial photos, topographical maps and when one physically walks the site. Some portions of the area have a thin veneer of soil where ground plant species and stunted trees exist but for the most part it is exposed rock surfaces with mosses and lichens. This site is extremely dry and the rock is highly weathered.

In areas other than the granite knolls where the plant species thrive on top of the bedrock, they have formed a thick root mat that inhibits the growth of tree species. This root mat can best be described as very fibrous and is susceptible to disturbances such as construction or fire. If this mat is removed the site usually converts to exposed bedrock or wet areas if contained in a hollow and nature takes a long time to replace the first plant species associations. If there is a reasonable amount of soil remaining, the site will begin to regenerate in a mixture of tree species (usually hardwood and balsam fir) and the various ground plant species. The upland bogs of this area exist on the hollows of the bedrock. These are some of the “agriculture fields” reported in the book.

A special note should be made of the photo on page 260 of his book. A careful comparison of this photo and the lower photo on page 258 indicates that the courtyard and road closest to the small lake are absent in the photo on page 260. This is because the photo on page 260 predates the one on page 258 and predates the construction of 1989.

In his book Mr. Chiasson mentions other physical proof to support his theory and these are contained in a number of photos he has taken.

The rock walls along the roadways reported to be of Chinese origin were actually built by road construction activities of the fire roads and the road upgrading and construction of 1989. The landscape at Cape Dauphin and many other upland sites are considered to be very rocky with plenty of surface granite rocks and boulders. These rocks are pushed to the sides of the roads during construction and maintenance. They form what look to be low loose rubble rock windrows along the edges of these roads.

The feature in the aerial photos reported to be the ruins of an ancient city wall are the result of the bulldozers constructing the firebreaks in 1953 and 1968, by pushing the ground material (which on this location contained a lot of surface rocks and boulders) outward away from the fire to expose the bare mineral soil to prevent the fire from spreading.  These firebreaks with a width of up to forty feet would contain a great deal of surface rocks and boulders. This would result in low windrows of rocks around the outside edge of the firebreak. After a number of years of weathering on the site they may look like low walls to the untrained eye.

The reported platforms and other rocky features are actually rock rubble piles deposited by the glaciers and are found along the length of Kelly’s Mountain for at least 25 kilometers and also at other locations throughout the Cape Breton Highlands. The fire barren site created by the 1968 fire actually has a larger rock rubble pile then the reported town site clearing of his book. Anyone who drives along the Trans Canada Highway as it passes over Kelly’s Mountain a few kilometers west of Cape Dauphin can see similar rocky features along the highway. Much of the rocky material deposited in other locations has the same sharp edge features Mr. Chiasson shows in his photographs and these rocks are not just limited to this site. Geologists can explain how the rocks are split and fractured along bedding planes etc. Archeologists can show that there is no evidence of tooling of these rocks as reported in his book. Archeologists, lead by Mr. David Christianson (Provincial Archeologist) of the Nova Scotia Museum visited the site to examine these rocks in June of 2006. Charcoal reported on site in the book resulted from the known forest fires. While Mr. Cedric Bell may have found charcoal in one of the rock piles this is no indication that a rock pile is the remains of a smelter. 

After examining the physical evidences offered in the book The Island of Seven Cities we can find no evidence at Cape Dauphin to support Mr. Chiasson’s theory. To the contrary, the actual evidences in the aerial photographs and proper understanding of the physical and geological features along with the known and documented history of human activities of the Cape Dauphin site leads us in a totally different direction. Mr. Chiasson states that he was aware of various fires that had burned on the Cape Dauphin mountain site but yet did not attribute any of the site characteristics to these fires. He claims to have walked the roads at Cape Dauphin and even to the ends of the Kelly Rock Limited roads and yet did not recognize 15 year-old road construction nor did he mention the very obvious signs of the monitoring wells on site (plastic and metal well pipes standing in place in these clearings he reports as courtyards of an ancient village). Mr. Chiasson claims to have in his possession the same aerial photography that we reviewed. It is difficult to understand how he could have missed the plain succession of changes as seen in the aerial photography of the Cape Dauphin site. That is, unless he deliberately chose to do so. If this is the case then much else of what is written in this book must be called into question including the supposed experts (Gavin Menzies and Cedric Bell) whom he brought to this site and who are publicly supporting his theory.  This article only deals with one aspect of this book. There are other portions that would fare just the same. While well written, this book adds nothing to the historical record of Cape Breton Island and should be classified as historical fiction and nothing more.

Andrew Hanam

BSc Forest Engineering
July 2006

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