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Good doggo ensures worker safety during archaeological surveys

When on the job, Dax the dog won’t back down from anything.

Dax, an eight-year-old German Shepherd, works as a protection dog with archaeology firm Woodland Heritage Northeast.
Dax, an eight-year-old German Shepherd, works as a protection dog with archaeology firm Woodland Heritage Northeast.

The eight-year-old, black and tan German Shepherd works as a watchdog for Woodland Heritage Northeast, an archaeological consulting company that has helped survey a number of OPG’s projects and sites over the years, most recently at the Calabogie hydro redevelopment in eastern Ontario.

For six years, the good boy has been providing protection from bears and various other dangers on work sites across the province.

“He’s friendly but not affectionate, and he’s always hyper-aware of his surroundings,” said senior archaeologist Ryan Primrose, Dax’s owner and principal owner of Woodland Heritage Northeast. “Bears don’t usually want to deal with dogs, and there have been a few cases where Dax was able to stand his ground and turn them away.”

In addition to acting as a deterrent against encroaching bears and other animals, Dax helps ensure his team and OPG employees stay together so that nobody strays from the pack and gets lost during field work.

Whether it’s for a new generating station or a redevelopment, archaeological surveys are conducted at OPG’s hydro sites to find any evidence of past human settlement that has cultural heritage value or interest.

These surveys are an important aspect of OPG’s positive relationship with Indigenous communities and the company’s efforts to minimize its environmental impact.

Primrose’s company has been working with OPG and its predecessor, Ontario Hydro, since the 1990s on projects like the Lower Mattagami Redevelopment.

While he doesn’t always find archaeological sites, as was the case in the recent survey of the Calabogie site, Primrose and his team have made several major finds over the years.

A box base Meadowood projectile point discovered by Woodland Heritage Northeast during a 2010 survey.
A box base Meadowood projectile point discovered by Woodland Heritage Northeast during a 2010 survey.

Near the town of Smooth Rock Falls, on the lower part of the Upper Mattagami River, his team of archaeologists discovered suspected late Paleo-Indian type tools that pushed back the known history of northeastern Ontario by about 1,000 years.

And in 2010, while working at an OPG site on the Upper Mattagami River, the crew found obsidian likely originating from the Wyoming or Oregon area, linking the area to early trade among Indigenous peoples during the Hopewell period between 100 BCE to 500 CE.

“We have a great relationship with First Nations, and have transferred a number of artifacts to local First Nations communities and museums,” Primrose said. “The bulk of our excavation work is undertaken with the assistance of First Nations members, which puts them into direct contact with their own history.”

As for Dax, Primrose said his canine companion will continue to play a vital role as he tags along in all situations.