Canadian architect follows in Gavin Menzies's footsteps

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`The Island of Seven Cities,' written by the Toronto architect, has sparked a heated debate on whether the Chinese were the first foreigners to settle in Canada.

This book follows in the wake of Gavin Menzies' 1421 [reviewed in Taipei Times Jan. 19, 2003]. Whereas Menzies, together with many other claims, speculated that a Chinese fleet reached North America in that year, Paul Chiasson points to an actual Canadian site that, he believes, contains the remains of a Chinese settlement.

Chiasson has much in common with Menzies. Both come to their sensational subject-matter via personal enthusiasm triggered by a chance incident, in Chiasson's case taking a hike up a small mountain. Neither is a professional historian — Menzies is a retired sea-captain and Chiasson a Toronto architect — and both books are marked by personal anecdote and descriptions of the circumstances in which they came across the documents, maps and sites they are now promoting....

You only have to look up this book on Google to find a mass of derisory comment. One blogger, Rob Ferguson, claims that the aerial photo of Cape Dauphin showing some kind of road, that Chiasson dates 1929, was actually taken in 1953 and exhibits firebreaks. Other photos, the same writer insists, show roads developed in connection with a proposed quarry site, plans for which were later abandoned.

More evidence is presented in this book than it's possible to detail here. Prominent are arguments about the conceivable influence of Chinese on the Native American Mi'kmaq language, and about characteristic Chinese building techniques and habits that make, in the author's eyes, the remains at Cape Dauphin unlike anything that might have been constructed by Vikings, Portuguese, and so on.

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