Claims of a pre-Columbian Chinese settlement in Cape Breton Island raise eyebrows
· photograph by Lynn Baechler
Baechler has an explanation for every feature on the mountain that Chiasson maintains is Chinese. “The courtyards are actually areas that were cleared off for the test drills,” she says. “The remains of the wall are most likely related to a 1952 fire road.” Pictures she took in 1989 show that the road up the mountain was clearly built that year. A team of archaeologists led by David Christianson of the Nova Scotia Museum has also been to the top of Kelly’s Moun-tain. They confirm that all the man-made features there are of twentieth-century origin.
Chiasson is unwavering in his faith, though. When I asked him via email about the contradictory evidence, his response was, “You have seen the stone features on the site and the mason marks on the stone tiles. When I started this project, I realized that I would have to trust journalists to answer [such] reasoning.”
The more I looked at the photos I had taken of the stone tiles and marked-up rocks, though, the more natural the objects seemed to me. I had come to Kelly’s Mountain expecting to see ruins, but ultimately the hilltop was simply a particularly amazing spot on a beautiful stretch of Cape Breton.
What stood out most from the tour was not the idea of ancient Chinese settlement in Canada. Rather, it was the memory of our descent. As we made our way down the mountain, Chiasson spoke not of the Ming Dynasty, but instead of sites he had seen on a 2000 trip to the Middle East. We talked about the great Crusader castles, especially the massive Krak des Chevaliers in Syria. His description of the castle was vivid and rich, his passion palpable.
But soon his brisk pace left me breathless, and I had to slow down, along with his family. Chiasson continued down Kelly’s Mountain, leaving the rest of us far behind.•
Powell is a senior editor at Archaeology magazine.
Canada & its place in the world. Published by
the non-profit charitable Walrus Foundation