by Joan Champ
In the late winter of 1950, an unnamed reporter from the Prince Albert Daily Herald had a fortuitous encounter with Saskatchewan’s only active woman prospector. I say “fortuitous” because Nan (Evangeline Annette) Danke Dorland Morenus Albrecht, “an attractive redhead,” has an interesting life story – one that I have only begun to explore. This is part one of my findings.
On Monday, March 20, 1950, Nan Dorland, an actress turned writer turned prospector from New York City via northern Ontario, referred to as “Mrs. Morenus,” was passing through Prince Albert with her partner, John Albrecht. A long-time trapper and prospector, Albrecht had co-discovered uranium at Black Lake, Saskatchewan, in 1948. Over the preceding year and a half, the twosome had staked claims north of Stony Rapids, 900 kilometres north of Prince Albert on a lake bordering the Northwest Territories. They told the Herald that their recent find of base metal was of sufficient importance to warrant them flying to Regina and Toronto. The purpose of their journey had a more urgent purpose, however. Unbeknownst to the reporter, Nan, 38 years old, was four months pregnant.
Born Evangeline Annette Danke on October 31, 1911 in Buffalo, New York, Nan Dorland pursued a career in stage and radio serial acting in New York City throughout the 1930s. It was there that she met her first husband, Richard Morenus, a writer and director for network radio programs. They married on October 15, 1936.
In 1939, Nan underwent emergency surgery for a perforated ulcer. The stress of producing daily radio shows had caused her illness: “My wife and I had been stop-watch slaves in New York for more than 10 years, I as writer/director of network programs, she as one of the more popular actresses who suffer daily in serials before the microphones,” Richard Morenus wrote in September 1, 1946 article for Maclean’s magazine. “The big red hand of the studio clock had bound us until we were accountable to it for every one of its measured minutes. Its gifts were liberal, but the cost was great in ruined digestions, tired bodies, and nerves as taut as piano wires. Something had to snap. It had been Nan…”
Nan and Richard Morenus made decision to quit their jobs, leave the New York City, and move to Canada’s bush country in northern Ontario. They bought an isolated seven-acre island north of Sioux Lookout and lived there for six years. Nan loved it. “This isn’t half as bad as trying to get a part on Broadway, or auditioning for a new radio show,” Richard quoted her as saying in his Maclean’s article. “That’s work. This is the bush, and I love it. This is fun.” She learned to hunt and trap from Indigenous people in the area. She learned how to skin animals, prepare meat, fix snowshoes, and travel by dog team. Richard talked of returning to New York for a visit, but Nan would have no part of it. She said: “My moccasins are soft on my feet when I walk in the woods. I’d miss the canoe. My dog team would be lonesome if I should leave them. I have more freedom than anyone else in the world. And where is there anything so beautiful. Go back? Go back to what? I have nothing to go back to. I’m where I belong now. I’m home!”
Nan learned another skill while in northern Ontario – prospecting. In her Maclean’s article, “The Woman’s Bushed!” published on August 15, 1947, she tells the story of her 150-mile canoe trip with a trapper/prospector named “Joe” in search of a rumoured high-grade mineral vein at Spirit Lake north of Sioux Lookout. Only one month earlier, Nan had been suffering from a serious illness with had confined her to a hospital bed for several months. Now, she was shoving off on a rigorous adventure that involved rapids and at least twenty portages. Nevertheless, she said that with demands of bush life, “I was coming to life again.” When Joe and Nan ended their prospecting venture without making a find, she was disappointed. “I had caught a severe case of prospecting fever which inscrutable Spirit Lake had intensified,” she wrote in her Maclean’s article. “The stern, inhospitable region fascinated me and some day I meant to return, come hell, higher water or more beavers.”
Nan was good to her word, although it wouldn’t be to Ontario that she returned. She had heard about uranium discoveries in northern Saskatchewan.
Next week – Part Two: Nan’s adventures in northern Saskatchewan