Discovering Nan Dorland

John Albrecht and Nan Morenus, March 1950

My Discovery of Nan in the Herald’s Back Pages

Editor’s note

We’re proud to welcome Joan Champ back to the pages of the Prince Albert Daily Herald Champ wrote PAssages, a history column about Prince Albert, and followed that up with Railway and Main, a column about the history of hotels in Saskatchewan.

Champ’s love of stories led her to study western Canadian history at the University of Saskatchewan, earning a master’s degree. Her knowledge of history opened the door to a career at the Western Development Museum, rising to chief executive officer for all four museums.

Her award-winning history columns have been picked up by papers across Saskatchewan.

Discovering Nan Dorland will run every second week, alternating with Museum Musings by Fred Payton.

by Joan Champ

“Prospecting May Be Tough But To Nan It’s All Just Fun.” As I perused the back issues of the Prince Albert Daily Herald back in 2018 in search of content for my newspaper column called PAssages that headline – and the accompanying photograph – caught my attention. I read on and discovered that, in March of 1950, an unnamed Herald reporter had a fortuitous encounter with Nan – Evangeline Annette (Nan) Danke/Dorland/Morenus – and her partner John Erdmann Albrecht as the couple was passing through Prince Albert. I say “fortuitous” because Nan, a former radio star from New York City, was Saskatchewan’s only active woman prospector at the time.

Nan, or Mrs. Morenus as she was called, was the primary focus Herald reporter’s story. The former actress was certainly one of the more glamorous figures to have turned up in northern Saskatchewan in the late 1940s. “Prospecting in the rugged Northland of Saskatchewan is tough,” the reporter wrote, “but it’s doubly tough when the prospector is a woman. “Despite the drawbacks of being a female in the all-male land of jagged rock, bushes and jackpine, Nan Morenus, an attractive redhead, finds that prospecting is an exciting – and often profitable – way to earn a living.”

Nan and John told the Herald that they were flying to Regina and Toronto to check out their find of base metal from their northern stake. The purpose of their journey had a more urgent purpose, however. As I reveal in my PAssages blog, I soon discovered that, unbeknownst to the reporter, Nan was four months pregnant.

Why pursue Nan Dorland? After all, she was not famous – although she came close. But her life was unusual and intriguing, so even 70 years after her death, I believe she deserves to be remembered.  

Have you wanted to learn more about strangers that you see in a photograph? It happens to me all the time, but I found the Herald photo shown above particularly captivating. I began to investigate and quickly learned that both Nan and John have fascinating life stories that intersect for an all-too-brief brief period of time. Nan’s life story, or as much as I can learn of it, is the subject of this column.

Who was Nan – or Mrs. Morenus – the actress-turned-writer-turned-prospector from New York City via northern Ontario? How did she end up in northern Saskatchewan? Where was Mr. Morenus and what was the nature of Nan’s relationship with John Albrecht? Where in northern Saskatchewan did they call home? I have found out the answers to some of these questions and am still trying to find the answers to others.

I embarked on this investigative journey knowing full well that the outcome would be unpredictable. Unsure that what I might learn about Nan would fill a book, I decided to tell her story in a blog series called Discovering Nan Dorland: From Stardom to Stony Rapids.

With the passing of time, so much of Nan’s life story has gone missing. I jumped into my “Nan project” with both feet, however, so I was left with no choice but to turn my attention to what IS present and what CAN be found. My journey in writing Nan’s life story ended up being a complex stitching together of fragments of her life, constructing a portrait both from what remains and what is missing.

I am grateful to the Prince Albert Daily Herald for welcoming me back with the publication of this new column, Discovering Nan Dorland. Much of her story takes place in the USA and northern Ontario, but I hope readers will find the journey that brings her to northern Saskatchewan as fascinating as I do.