Isotopic and geochemical data indicate that intrusions in the eastern Creignish Hills of central Cape Breton Island, Canada represent the roots of arcs active at ~ 540–585 Ma and ~ 440 Ma. Times of intrusion are closely dated by (1) a nearly concordant U–Pb zircon age of 553 ± 2 Ma in diorites of the Creignish Hills pluton; (2) a lower intercept U–Pb zircon age of 540 ± 3 Ma that is within analytical error of 40Ar/39Ar hornblende plateau isotope-correlation ages of 545 and 550 ± 7 Ma in the River Denys diorite; and (3) an upper intercept U–Pb zircon age of 586 ± 2 Ma in the Melford granitic stock. On the other hand, ~ 441–455 Ma 40Ar/39Ar muscovite plateau ages in the host rock adjacent to the Skye Mountain granite provide the best estimate of the time of intrusion, and are consistent with the presence of granitic dykes cutting the Skye Mountain gabbro–diorite previously dated at 438 ± 2 Ma. All the intrusions are calc-alkaline; the Skye Mountain granite is peraluminous. Trace element abundances and Nb and Ti depletions of the intrusive rocks are characteristic of subduction-related rocks. The ~ 540–585 Ma intrusions form part of an extensive belt running across central Cape Breton Island, and represent the youngest Neoproterozoic arc magmas in this part of Avalonia. Nearby, they are overlain by Middle Cambrian units containing rift-related volcanic rocks, which bracket the transition from convergence to extension between ~ 540 and 505/520 Ma. This transition varies along the Avalon arc: 590 Ma in southern New England, 560–538 Ma in southern New Brunswick, and 570 Ma in eastern Newfoundland. The bi-directional diachronism in this transition is attributed to northwestward subduction of two mid-ocean ridges bordering an oceanic plate, and the migration of two ridge–trench–transform triple points. Following complete subduction of the ridges, remnant mantle upwelling along the subducted ridges produced uplift, gravitational collapse and the high-temperature/low-pressure metamorphism in the arc in both southern New Brunswick and central Cape Breton Island. The ~ 440 Ma arc magmatism in the Creignish Hills extends through the Cape Breton Highlands and into southern Newfoundland, and has recently been attributed to northwesterly subduction along the northern margin of the Rheic Ocean.