Harry Warren and a Shaggy Dog Story

Posted by Daniel on Sep 23, 2009 - 5 comments

Vancouver historian Chuck Davis writes: The late Dr. Harry Warren (seen at left) was a genuinely distinguished professor of geology at UBC. (He was awarded the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia.) Warren changed forever the way prospectors here and in other countries look for buried mineral deposits. To oversimplify it, what he discovered is that if you analyze the chemical content of grasses and trees and vegetables and such you can learn what minerals are in the earth beneath them.

His early work in the field—a field he pioneered and developed—was not without its critics. Ray Lett of the B.C. Geological Survey writes, “Geochemical exploration techniques were once regarded with mild amusement by the mining community . . .” Today? Thanks to Harry Warren, “geochemistry is considered a key discipline contributing to the search for new mineral deposits.” Several mines in B.C. were discovered utilizing his concepts.

But he was also associated with another unorthodox method for finding mineral deposits: dogs. An article by J. Stirling in the November 1972 issue of the Canadian Mining Journal tells the story. Back in the 1960s someone in Finland discovered that dogs, properly trained, could sniff out sulphide-bearing rocks “not normally indicated by conventional prospecting methods.” Apparently “a prospecting dog located some pyrite and chalcopyrite boulders which diamond drilling investigation revealed to have a copper ore body of economic significance.” Warren was taken by the notion and introduced it to Canada. He had the financial backing of a syndicate formed for the purpose (and whimsically named Syndicate K-9) consisting of the mining companies Kennco, Falconbridge, El Paso and Dynasty.

“Two German Shepherd dogs were purchased; neither had any formal training . . . the dogs responded very well and within a few weeks were infallibly selecting sulphide-bearing boulders from amongst ordinary rocks.” Often they would find such rocks where the prospector had not. But, alas, in Canada problems surfaced, mostly to do with weather conditions . . . and results were spotty. “One of the major difficulties,” the article tells us, “was maintaining the dogs’ interest when natural finds were slow. The dogs were not fooled by planted rocks designed to bolster their enthusiasm. They seemed to know the real thing.”

Dog prospecting just never caught on. Not even Harry Warren could win ’em all.