Shattered Lives: British home Children in Prince Albert

This is the 22nd in a series of columns about the 70 British Home Children sent to St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert between 1901 and 1907. While all orphanage records were destroyed in the terrible fire of 1947, every attempt has been made to trace the life stories of these dispossessed children through genealogy websites and newspaper databases.

May and Lillian Holderness: Their Father’s Story

“The insistence of a Charity on its legal right to place the Atlantic between a child and its [parent] does not look well.” – British Home Office, 1897, as quoted in Uprooted by Roy Parker (2010)

“There was no new thing under the sun. About the schools where Indigenous children were shorn and stripped, renamed, reeducated and returned home broken and scarred, or never at all. About children born across borders in their parents’ arms only to be caged in warehouses, alone and afraid. … There was a long history of children taken, the pretexts different but the reasons the same. A most precious ransom. A cudgel over a parent’s head. It was whatever the opposite of an anchor was. An attempt to uproot some otherness. Something hated and feared. Some foreignness seen as an evasive weed. Something to be eradicated.” – Celeste Ng, Our Missing Hearts (2022)

1904 was a pivotal year in the life of Joseph George Holderness (1869-1922). Joseph, a Sergeant Master Tailor in the British Army’s 4th Battalion Rifle Brigade, lost his wife Edith Matilda Collard (1874- 1904) to typhus on 31 July of that year, leaving him a single father of five children, three boys and two girls, May/Mary Edith (1897-1981) and Lillian (1898-1989). That same year, he was informed that he was to be stationed in Malta. So, he arranged for his children to board at a Catholic school in London, England.

Early in 1905, shortly after his wife’s death and before he left for Malta, Joseph married a woman named Sarah, 18 years his junior. He then embarked for Malta where he served from 8 November 1905 to 13 March 1906 – about five months. At his own request, Joseph returned to England and was discharged from the Army at Gosport on 31 March at age 36. He was awarded the Meritorious Service medal. [Source: Royal Hospital Chelsea Pensioner Soldier Service Records, National Archies of the UK,]

By the time Joseph returned to be reunited with his wife and children, the powers of the British child migration scheme were in full force. There was little to no chance that Joseph could have had his little girls, May and Lillian, returned to him from the Catholic home in which he had placed them. Within a year, the girls were sent to Canada by the Southwark Rescue Society, a Catholic rescue organization.

According to May’s great-granddaughter, Corrine Bainard, Joseph “insisted that he had no knowledge and gave no consent to them being sent away.” When Corrine contacted a Catholic Emigration Society in England, she was told that the girls’ father “might have lied to them out of shame.” “I know from my mother,” Corrine continued, “that the story was always that they were sent without permission.” May’s son Gerald, Corrine’s father, was “angry his whole life at how his mother and aunt were treated and tried in vain to get information that would either prove or disprove the story,” Corrine wrote, “but his questions were never answered.” (Email to me, 27 March 2023)

Photo courtesy of Corrine Bainard.
May (Holderness) Hinderks and family, no date. The woman on the left may be Lillian Holderness

Joseph may have tried, but he was unable to reclaim his daughters. Ten-year-old May and nine-year-old Lillian departed from Liverpool, England with 19 other children on 12 July 1907; they arrived in Quebec City, Canada on 18 July 1907. Their destination was St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

The girls lived and studied at the Prince Albert orphanage until their late teens. Corrine told me that apparently St. Patrick’s had their father’s information and mailing address but the girls were told nothing of the circumstances of their father and brothers until May was 18 years old.

May Holderness was born on 10 February 1897 in the Portobello Barracks, Dublin, Ireland. She left the Prince Albert orphanage in August 1915 to receive teacher training at Saskatoon Normal School, graduating in the fall of that year. She taught at the little white schoolhouse at Romance, Saskatchewan where she met Hubert Hinderks, a farmer and member of the Rural Municipality’s school board. They married and farmed south of Watson where they had five children.

Lillian Holderness was born on 13 August 1898, also in Dublin. She graduated from the School of Nursing at Holy Family Hospital in Prince Albert in 1919. Illness, possibly the Spanish Flu, forced her to move to her sister’s home to recover. The 1921 Canada census shows Lillian, age 21, living with May (24), Hubert (37) and their two sons. Her occupation was recorded as “none”. The Saskatoon StarPhoenix reported on 12 July 1924 that Lillian was a Carnival Queen contestant at the Watson Sport’s Day. About a year later, she married her sister’s brother-in-law, Carl Hinderks, also a farmer in the Watson district. They had three children, two who survived infancy.

I am so grateful to Corrine Bainard for sending me a small collection of letters from Joseph Holderness to his daughters May and Lillian. His love for his lost girls shines through on the pages. Here are a few excerpts:

            •           On 31 May 1918 he wrote to May congratulating her on her marriage, asking if her husband was Catholic. “Do you know May I feel very, very proud of you,” Joseph wrote. “To think of the disadvantages against us and then to know that you have come out so grandly. Thank God for it all.”

            •           17 August 1918, letter to May: “How I wish I could come over to your world and see you both. I pray that we may all come together again, before the end. It seems rather a remote chance, still I feel assured that, providing we keep up an all round correspondence, and try our best, that something could be brought about. We at present are scattered about but I hope soon to see Harold, Arthur and Ernie then I must try to see yourself and Lily. … Kindest, dearest love to you and my Lily. Good-bye & God bless you. Your affectionate father”

            •           17 August 1918, letter to Lillian: “I wonder when I shall have the happiness of seeing you two. Perhaps you will visit the old country again, after you are through with your nursing. … Write to me Lily dear, as soon as you can, you promised me a nice long letter, so I shall be awaiting its coming with longing.”

            •           30 January 1920, letter to May: “First of all try and forgive me for my negligence. … I have often been on the point of writing and then put it off, but I promise you I will endeavor to answer your letters right away in future. I was very much upset to hear of Lily being ill. Said she was coming to your house to recover. You will look after her well I know May; perhaps she has been overdoing it in her nursing. I hope she will soon be alright again. … I was telling Lily how I wish we could come together again. I long so much to see you two girls and you are so very far away. … We are just going on in a quiet way, a very uneventful existence, hence lack of news.”

As it happens, Joseph’s life was hardly uneventful, but his was not the kind of news he would have wanted to share with his daughters. On 30 August 1919, the Ealing Gazette of London, England reported: “Insulting behaviour to a lady seated in a passing punt resulted in Joseph Holderness (49), a well-dressed man, described as a tailoring instructor, of Stacklegate-road, Teddington, appearing in the [prisoner’s] dock at Kingston on Saturday. Mrs. Mabel Silander stated that she was being paddled upstream in a punt on the Thames and on passing the Queen’s riverside promenade she saw accused standing at the top of some stone steps behaving inappropriately. As she was sure that his conduct was deliberate she went in search of a policeman.” Joseph was sentenced to three months’ hard labour.

There is a bright spot in the story. May was able to go to England to spend time with her father and brothers before Joseph passed away in 1922. He died of cirrhosis of the liver, likely caused by excessive alcohol consumption, on 10 May 1922 in Teddington, Middlesex, England.

May Holderness Hinderks died of Alzheimer’s on 6 October 1981 in Watson, Saskatchewan at age 84. Her younger sister Lillian died on 4 May 1989, also at Watson. Both are buried there in Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Cemetery.

Shattered Lives: British Home Children in Prince Albert

This is the 21st in a series of columns about the 70 British Home Children sent to St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert between 1901 and 1907. While all orphanage records were destroyed in the terrible fire of 1947, every attempt has been made to trace the life stories of these dispossessed children through genealogy websites and newspaper databases.

Two Who Became Nurses

“When I was five years old I was brought out to Canada from England, with a ticket pinned to my coat, and with the resolve already in my childish heart that someday I would make a place myself in the great, cold world where I could help others as the kind nurses had helped me.”

– Cecilia Jewett, British Home Child who became a nurse, from her book No Thought for Tomorrow (1955)

Under the British Child Migrant scheme, the Catholic Emigration Society, the organisation that had entered into the agreement with the government to look after the 70 children sent to Prince Albert, were responsible for helping them to access employment once they were old enough to leave St. Patrick’s orphanage. Most of the boys became farmers. On leaving the institution, many of the young women became nuns or found employment in traditionally female dominated professions such as nursing and teaching – until marriage and motherhood removed them from the work force.

Here are the stories of two of the British Home girls from Prince Albert who entered the nursing profession.

Charlotte May McLaughlin (1891-1939)

On November 21, 1909, 18-year-old Charlotte McLaughlin was the first student admitted to the newly established School of Nursing at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon. Four others, including Hannah Eliason, Leonne Lachappelle, and two Grey Nuns, Sister Beauvais and Sister Polycarp, arrived shortly afterwards. St. Paul’s Hospital was established in 1907 and the School of Nursing two years later.

Born in Cape Town, South Africa on 5 August 1891 to Irish parents, bootmaker Patrick McLaughlin (abt 1843-) and Elizabeth (Stone) McLaughlin (1868-1898), Charlotte and her two brothers William Patrick (1893-1917) and Bertram Alexander (1897-1967) were all shipped to Canada from England as British Home Children, but not together. Charlotte was the only one of the three sent to St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert; she arrived at age 11 in May 1903. After she completed Grade 8, she likely moved on to Sion Academy before heading to Saskatoon to study nursing.

Photo from St. Paul’s School of Nursing Alumni: Looking Back One Hundred Years (2011). Charlotte McLaughlin, misidentified as Claire McLaughlin in this photo, arrived at the St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert in May 1903. In 1909, she was the first student admitted to the newly established School of Nursing at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon.

St. Paul’s Hospital, struggling to care for numerous cases of typhoid each year, welcomed Charlotte and the other four nursing students with open arms. “At last, we will have some help!” wrote one of the Grey Nuns in the hospital Chronicles on 21 November 1909.  “[W]e will have nursing students who, under our direction will follow a course of training and studies during two and a half years.” The School of Nursing was open to women between the ages of 18 and 30 “who in the opinion of the Sisters, join to a good education, and aptitude and a vocation for the very arduous work of sick nursing.” At six feet tall and weighing 164 pounds, Charlotte was a strong candidate for the rigors of nursing.

According to the book, St. Paul’s School of Nursing Alumni: Looking Back One Hundred Years (2011), bedside procedures were taught by the supervisor and senior nurses. Doctors lectured on fundamental subjects and the Director of Nurses, Sister Marie-du-Saint-Sacrament, taught classes related to the doctor’s lectures.

I contacted the Grey Nuns Archives in Montreal and learned that unfortunately they do not have records for the nursing program before 1925 nor any student files. They did, however, send me an excerpt from the Students’ Examination Book, St. Paul’s Hospital, Saskatoon, 1910-1929 (L070/G,3) which shows Charlotte’s courses and exam marks for 1910 and 1911, as follows:

– Anatomy & Physiology = 85%

– Surgery = 79% written; 50% practical and oral

– Hygiene = 69%

– Gynecology = 89%

– General Practice = 66%

– Materia Medica (Pharmacology) = 85%

– Diseases of Infancy and Childhood = 76%

– Ophthalmology = 75%

– Infectious Diseases = 80%

– Obstetrics = 80%

The School of Nursing Alumni’s book states that the student nurses’ residence was the third-floor attic of the hospital; their classroom was in the same third-floor attic.  “Each student was given free room and board along with a stipend: $5.00 per month in the first year and $10.00 in the second. The uniform … consisted of a below-the-calf basic blue dress, white clerical collar, bib, apron and cuffs, a white cap and black button boots.” When Charlotte and the other four nursing students graduated on 21 September 1911, the basic blue dress was replaced by a basic white dress, but other items of the uniform remained the same.

After she graduated, Charlotte worked as a nurse in Saskatoon for several years. When the United States entered the First World War in April 1917, she travelled to St. Paul, Minnesota at age 26 to work as a Training Nurse, likely under the auspices of the American Red Cross.

After the war, Charlotte returned to Saskatoon for a short time before moving to San Francisco, California in 1920 where she lived for the rest of her life. She never married. Charlotte became an American citizen on 3 January 1927. After a career as a registered nurse at the University of California Hospital, she died at age 48 on 25 August 1939 and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in San Francisco.

Lillian Mary Dumas (1893 – 1986)

Lillian Dumas often recorded on various documents that she was born in France or that she was of French heritage, but she was born at Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, England on 7 August 1893 to Irish parents.

Her older brothers William and Benedict had both been born in Bengal, India where her father Adolphus Dumas (1858 – 1932) served as a sergeant in the British Army. Adolphus’ military career ended badly. He was discharged at age 36 from 1st Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers in October 1895, with his character rated as “Fair” (most were Good or Very Good). In February 1896 he was tried in York for being drunk on duty the previous year.

Lillian’s mother Bridget (Nolan) Dumas died in 1901 at age 34. Adolphus sent his three children to children’s homes. In 1902, he remarried and had six more children. That year, Lillian’s brothers William (age 11) and Benedict (age 9) were sent to St. Vincent House, Montreal by the Liverpool Catholic Children’s Protection Society. After living at Bexhill Nazareth House – a home for orphan and destitute Catholic girls – for several years, 10-year-old Lillian was shipped by the Catholic Emigration Society to St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert in October 1903. The 1911 Canada census shows “Lilly” was still living in the orphanage at age 17.

Lillian’s grand niece, Marylee O’Neill recently messaged me with the following information: “The family story goes that as soon as my grandfather [William Dumas] was old enough and had saved funds, he went to get my aunt Lillian, who had become a nun after the orphanage, and arranged for her to leave the convent – I guess a scandal at that time.” (Marylee has more information about Lillian that she plans to scan and send to me. I will publish an update about her in a future column.)

Lillian must have studied nursing in Toronto, perhaps at the University of Toronto. I have not yet found any record of her at nursing school.

In 1920, Lillian moved permanently to Detroit, Michigan where she began her nursing career, first as a private nurse and later as an industrial nurse. She applied for US citizenship on 18 August 1930, stating that her race was French. Thomas M. Rowling, a builder who she later married, provided an affidavit for her application. Her naturalization was not granted until 1935.

The US census for 1950 shows Lillian, age 56 and still single, working as a registered industrial nurse at a steel factory in Detroit. She gave her birthplace as France in that census.

Industrial nurses often worked alone, giving first aid to the ill and injured, preparing accident reports, and delivering health education and accident prevention programs. Night shifts were a requirement. Mary Louise Brown, in her 1988 presentation on the 100-year history of industrial or occupational health nursing in the United States, observed that the most characteristic feature of industrial nursing was the loneliness of the one-nurse position. The industrial nurse had “to be a self-starter, creative and competent,” she stated. “These one-nurse positions provide the nurse with no role model and no one with whom to confer.”

Sometime between 1950 and 1973 Lillian married Thomas M. Rowling (1886-1977). He must have been quite elderly; he was 91 years old when he passed away in 1977. Lillian died on 19 June 1986 in Detroit at age 93.

Shattered Lives: British Home Children in Prince Albert

This is the twelfth in a series of columns about the 70 British Home Children sent to St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert between 1901 and 1907. While all orphanage records were destroyed in the terrible fire of 1947, every attempt has been made to trace the life stories of these dispossessed children through genealogy websites and newspaper databases

Arthur Wooddeson: Child of Divorce

“That on the 23rd February 1901 [William and Mary Jane Wooddeson] separated from one another by mutual consent on account of the intemperate habits of the said Mary Jane Wooddeson and [William] made her a regular weekly allowance. [Mary] went to live at 101 Courland Grove Clifton Street, Clapham in the County of London. [William] never cohabited with his said wife after the 23rd February 1901. That on the month of March 1902 between the 13 and 23 of that month the said Mary Jane Wooddeson was delivered of a child of which [William] was not the father but he does not know and has been unable to ascertain who was the father of the said child.” William asked that the marriage be dissolved and that he be granted custody of their five children Harry, Herbert, Ethel, Rose, and Sidney. – Affidavit of William Wooddeson, divorce decree, Ancestry

The divorce of William Robert Wooddeson (1862-1914) and Mary Jane (Hutchins) Wooddeson was finalized in May 1903 on the grounds that she had had a child by another man. That child is the subject of today’s column, Arthur Victor Wooddeson, born in 1902.

Divorce in England before 1914 was rare. It was considered scandalous and was confined primarily to the upper classes who could afford the expense. A “pauper cause” divorce was paid for out of a fund set aside, often by churches, for very poor people whose property was valued at less than £25. It was difficult to obtain, as a petitioner would have to find a lawyer prepared to give their services for free (although out-of-pocket expenses were still payable). [Source: Penelope Russell, “Re-tying the Knot? Remarriage and Divorce by Consent in mid-Victorian England,” American Journal of Legal History, Volume 59, Issue 2, June 2019.]

William Wooddeson would have had some financial resources even though his divorce case was “pauper cause.” He worked as a milk carrier in London, delivering fresh milk door to door from a churn or barrel. Milkmen delivered at least twice a day and recorded every purchased item into a book in a leather pouch, collecting payment from their customers every week.

Mary Jane Wooddeson and her illegitimate son Arthur Victor were on their own after the divorce. She worked as a charwoman so she would have had to send her son to the Poor Law authorities, whether a children’s home or workhouse. From there, the Catholic Emigration Society decided Arthur should be shipped off to Canada.

On 12 July 1907, 5-year-old Arthur boarded the Empress of Britain after a stay at Elham Park House (likely part of the Elham workhouse complex) en route to Canada. By 1911, according to the British census, his 45-year-old mother Mary Jane was a patient in the Wandsworth Union Workhouse Infirmary, Battersea, London.

Arthur spent his school years at St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. In the 1920s, he moved to Guelph, Ontario where he worked as an attendant at the Homewood Sanitarium, a private institution for the treatment of mental illness and substance abuse. There he met his future wife, Rhoda Mae McKinnon, who worked as a nurse at Homewood.

Working conditions for the staff at what became known as the Homewood Retreat were not good. In her detailed study of the private asylum, Cheryl Lynn Krasnick Warsh writes in her book, Moments of Unreason, that while the first two medical superintendents, Stephen Lett ad Alfred Hobbs, made significant advances in both diagnostics and therapeutics, their contributions to psychiatry were “continually compromised by patients’ intrusive families, by independently minded and unskilled employees, and by the recalcitrant patients themselves.”

“Whatever the therapeutics favoured by Lett and Hobbs, sanctioned by the board, or approved of by patients and their families, it was the poorly paid, overworked nurses and attendants who carried out the physicians’ directives with … scant regard for the rationale behind the treatments or the motivations of the families. While the patients of the Homewood Retreat were drawn primarily from the same class as the directors and physicians, the nurses and attendants were drawn almost exclusively from a social class – and often from ethnic and religious groups — widely different from those of the others in the institution.”

It cannot have been easy for Arthur and Rhoda, especially after she became pregnant. They got married on 18 October 1929 in Guelph and promptly moved to Niagara Falls, New York where he secured a job as a compressor operator. Their only son, Harold Victor (Woody) Wooddeson 1930-2006) was born just prior to the recording of the 1930 US census in Niagara Falls on 4 April, 1930.

That’s all I’ve been able to find out about the life story of Arthur Victor Wooddeson, British Home Child. I do not know when he or Rhoda died, nor where they were buried. At some point they may have returned to Guelph, Ontario as that is where their son Harold was interred in 2006.

Shattered Lives: British Home Children in Prince Albert
by Joan Champ

This is the fifth in a series of columns about the 70 British Home Children sent to St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert between 1901 and 1907. While all orphanage records were destroyed in the terrible fire of 1947, every attempt has been made to trace the life stories of these dispossessed children through genealogy websites and newspaper databases

The White Family, Part One: One Feisty Irishwoman

“Walter White, labourer of Sevenoaks Weald, was charged with using threats towards his wife, Mary White, on June 30th. On the Sunday previous he had punched her head, and on Monday night he acted like a madman. He said he would kill her if she took out a summons against him. … [Mary] obtained a separation order against him four years ago, but a little while ago she took him back on the condition that he never touched the drink again. … In default of obtaining the required securities (two of ten pounds each), prisoner was sent to Maidstone [prison] for one month.”
– Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 4 July 1902.

There had been a number of previous convictions against Walter White (abt 1858 – bef 1903) for drunkenness and assaulting his wife. In March of 1900, Mary (O’Toole) White (1863-1946) testified in police court at Sevenoaks that her husband had ill-treated her over the course of their entire 11-year marriage.

That March, Mary applied for a separation order under the Married Women’s Act. She was advised that she must not return to her husband, so she moved her six children – James, Kathleen, Walter, Lawrence, Richard, baby Iris – to a room in the village. The next day, Walter went to her room in her absence and took the children back to his house. He told the police magistrate the children complained of being cold and hungry. Mary retorted that “a shilling a fortnight – all she had received from him – would not go far towards providing the children with food and warmth.” Mary accompanied a police constable, PC Hardy, to retrieve her children. Hardy later testified that Walter “behaved like a madman.” As soon as he saw Mary outside the house, “he came into the road, used bad language, struck her two violent blows, and knocked her into a hedge.”

By the spring of 1903, Mary and her children were inmates in the Sevenoaks Union Workhouse where she was separated from all her children except Iris, born in January 1902. Mothers in the workhouse were only allowed to see their children for half an hour on Tuesdays and Fridays from 5:00 to 5:30 p.m. This did not sit well with Mary. The Sevenoaks newspaper reported on 14 April 1903 that she had been charged with “refractory conduct” for taking her 7-year-old daughter Kathleen out of the ward. This was the fifth time Mary had refused the orders of the workhouse matron. Mary testified that the case had only been brought up out of spite for her complaints about the workhouse food. She stated that she thought the workhouse was “a disgrace to English men and women,” and said that “she did not mind punishment for she was going to Canada.” – Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 17 April 1903.

On March 27, the Board of the Sevenoaks Union Workhouse reported that it had received a letter from the Catholic Guardians’ Association (an organization formed in 1894 for the care of the poor), stating that they were prepared to sent Mary and her six children to Canada if the necessary costs could be raised; the Association was willing to contribute.

Mary White (age 41, recorded as a widow) and her six children are all on the outgoing passenger list for the ship, Tunisian, which left Liverpool on 7 May 1903. Something must have happened – perhaps baby Iris got sick – because Mary and Iris are not on the arrivals passenger when the ship docked in Quebec City on May 15th. Mary and her youngest child had been sent back to the Sevenoaks workhouse.

There, Mary somehow managed an extraordinary feat: she became an agent for the Catholic Emigration Society. She served as the matron aboard the ship Bavarian for a large group of children heading to New Orpington Lodge, a receiving home for Catholic migrant children in Ottawa. She must have been desperate to reunite with her other five children who were on their way to Saskatchewan, so much so that she offered (or otherwise maneuvered?) to escort other children as well as her own baby daughter to the home in Ontario, with no intention of staying there herself.

Mary’s ship arrived on 6 June 1903. She then made her way to Prince Albert where she reunited with her other five children at St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage.

The White children did not remain in the orphanage for long. Mary had used the British child migration scheme to move her children out of harm’s way. By 1906, the entire White family was living in Saskatoon. Iris is recorded in the 1906 Canada census as “Shamrock”, a reflection, perhaps, of the luck she had brought to her mother in their escape from the workhouse.

Shattered Lives: British Home Children in Prince Albert

This is the third in a series of columns about the 70 British Home Children sent to St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert between 1901 and 1907. While all orphanage records were destroyed in the terrible fire of 1947, every attempt has been made to trace the life stories of these dispossessed children through genealogy websites and newspaper databases

Conditions at St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage were not great when the four Daly children – Daniel (11), Joseph (10), Evelyn (8) and Violet (7) – arrived at Prince Albert from England in 1901. Quite simply, the institution was not prepared for the children. “There was no money and means of financing the institution was overlooked,” writes Monica H. Plante, author of a history of the orphanage (1988). “It was taken for granted that Divine Providence would care for the needs of the children.”

In a letter to the Catholic Union and Times on 4 February 1904, the manager of the orphanage Brother E. M. Courbis, OMI, appealed to readers for quilts and blankets “on behalf of over fifty poor little children who are suffering very much from the severe cold of our northern winter, especially at night, for want of sufficient bedding.” On 25 November 1905, Brother Courbis wrote to the Irish Standard, “If you knew, as we do, the pitiful circumstances of these poor forsaken little ones of Christ, you would be moved to tears. … Our harvest is for the most part a failure. What, then, am I to give my hungry orphans to eat if you close your heart and hand to them?”

The four Daly children spent their school years in the Prince Albert orphanage. The Sisters of Providence came from France in 1901 to teach the children, but because they could not speak English, the children were required to speak French. “No doubt much misunderstanding arose among the French-speaking Sisters and the English-speaking British orphans,” Plante writes. “[T]he Sisters found it increasingly harder to care for and teach children whose language they could neither easily speak or understand.” Bishop Pascal saw the need, but it was five long years before three English-speaking Sisters of Charity arrived to teach the orphanage children.

According to his daughter Machel, Daniel Daly (1889-1978) was not ill-treated at the orphanage. Daniel lived for a time at the Bishop’s Palace next to Sacred Heart Cathedral, served as an alter boy, and thought about becoming a priest. In 1904, 15-year-old Daniel was sent to the orphanage’s farm at Red Wing where, he worked providing food and firewood to the orphanage.

In 1906, with help from Father Courbis, Daniel applied for a homestead at White Star. In 1915, he sold that homestead and bought another in the Red Wing area five miles north of Prince Albert. By 1916, he was farming with his wife Mary Viola. The couple and their ten children were happy on the farm, but the Depression forced them to leave for British Columbia. Daniel died on 7 January 1978 in Saanich, BC at age 88.

Joseph Daly (1894-1959) took out a homestead in the Buckland area, receiving his papers in 1912. Machel recalls that Joseph didn’t enjoy farming. With the outbreak of the First World War, another opportunity came knocking. On 24 March 1916, the Prince Albert Daily Herald reported that Captain William Featherstonehaugh was in the city to secure recruits for 224th Canadian Forestry Battalion. Canadian bushmen, he said, would be sent to England to cut standing timber for use at the front. (It was impossible to ship timber from Canada because ocean transport was restricted to men, munitions, and food.)

Joseph signed up on 7 April 1916, listing his occupation as “lumberjack.” By then, 70 recruits from the Prince Albert area had enlisted in the Forestry Battalion. “The men line up at the old skating rink on Twelfth Street West for drill every morning and though this does not last long, the men are learning the rudiments of military formations,” the Herald stated. “They are a fine type of men and probably no better can be found in Canada, for physique.”

Joseph embarked for England in April 1916 and was posted to a lumber operation near Windsor Castle. He was reunited with his mother, now Mrs. Dowle, while in England. Joseph returned to Prince Albert after his discharge from the Forestry Corps in August 1919. He never married. He worked as a caretaker and a journalist for the Daily Herald; and then as a postman, retiring in 1959. He died in Prince Albert that year.

After Evelyn Daly (1891- 1985) left the orphanage, she took her vows with the Sisters of Charity in New Brunswick. In December 1916, one of the priests at the convent started “acting up.” Evelyn and another woman made a clandestine escape because, Machel said, they were worried about their personal safety.

Evelyn went to work looking after the two small sons of a Baptist widower named Edgar Banks whom she married on 19 February 1919. The 1921 Canada census shows them living in St. John with his two sons, Donald (7) and Frank (5) and their daughter Barbara Mary (2). In 1924, Evelyn and Barbara traveled to Dover, England and were reunited with her mother, Esther. They stayed in England where Evelyn remarried to John Philpott in June 1924. She died at age 94 in England on 16 January 1985.

Violet Daly (1892-1916) had a crippled shoulder, possibly, Machel said, due to abuse at the orphanage. Daniel wanted her to live with him on his farm, but Violet wanted the city life. She moved to Winnipeg where she died on 26 January 1916 of pneumonia at age 24.

After Part One was published two weeks ago, I was put in touch with Machel Johnston (formerly Eileen Daly) of British Columbia. She is the daughter of one of the first British Home Children to arrive at the Prince Albert orphanage, Daniel Daly (1889-1978), and will be celebrating her 100th birthday in October. Machel and I spoke on the phone for two hours and she is a delight! She did, however, have some sad and disturbing stories to tell me about her father’s and his three siblings’ lives in the orphanage. Here is a brief update to Part One, based on my interview with Machel Johnston on May 26, 2022:

  • Daniel Daly Sr. was a “very bad alcoholic.” When his wife Esther was hospitalized in 1901, she put their four children in a workhouse. Incensed by his wife’s action, Daniel decided to take their children to Canada. He did not allow them to say goodbye to their mother. Esther did not find out until two weeks later that her children were gone.
    • Once the children were in the PA orphanage, Daniel Sr. saw them only three times before heading north to work. They never saw their father again.
  • Conditions in the orphanage were “terrible.” The Daly boys were not allowed to see their sisters. Worse, Daniel told his daughter Machel that a boy died due to the abuse he experienced at the hands of a “very bad” priest. The boy suffered to the point that he stopped eating and grew very thin. When Daniel reported the abuse, he was sent at age 15 to live on the orphanage’s farm. “They got rid of him quite quick.”
  • Daniel also told Machel that his brother Joseph and sister Violet were abused at the orphanage, something that affected them for the rest of their lives.

Shattered Lives: British Home Children in Prince Albert

by Joan Champ

This is the second in a series of columns about the 70 British Home Children sent to St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert between 1901 and 1907. While all orphanage records were destroyed in the terrible fire of 1947, every attempt has been made to trace the life stories of these dispossessed children through genealogy websites and newspaper databases.

The Daly Siblings: Part One – Arrival

Among the weary group of four boys and four girls who were met at the Prince Albert railway station by George Russel’s democrat on October 7, 1901 were the Daly siblings, Daniel (11), Joseph (10), Evelyn (8) and Violet (7). They had boarded the steamship Tunisian at Liverpool, England with their father, Daniel Daly, Sr. on September 19th. Their destination was the newly founded St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert.

It was unusual, but not unheard of, for a parent to accompany the little ones who became known as British Home Children to their new homes overseas. The majority, however, of the 80,000 impoverished children sent to Canada from England between 1867 and 1917 had been separated from their parents by so-called child rescue societies. This included the Catholic Emigration Society that sponsored the Daly children’s shipment to Canada in 1901.

Typically, struggling British parents – especially single mothers or those with large families – would agree to their children being “taken into care” by rescue homes on a temporary basis, but few consented to their offspring to be sent to Canada permanently. The children – usually between the ages of 3 and 14 – were almost always sent abroad without their parent’s knowledge. However, not only did Daniel Daly consent to the emigration of his four youngest children, but he also went along to get them settled in the remote Canadian orphanage.
Irish-born Daniel Henry Daly (1853-1907), a shoemaker by trade. He joined the British Army in 1880, marrying Esther Gittens in 1883. Daniel’s army medical records reveal a checkered career, with time spent in jail for drunkenness. He served in Egypt with Kitchener from 1884 to 1886, retired from the army in 1900. A disabled veteran, he moved with his wife and five children to London on a meagre pension payable every three months.

In 1901, Esther Daly (1853-1926) fell ill and had to be hospitalized for several weeks. Without her knowledge, her husband took their four youngest children to Canada and placed them in Prince Albert’s Catholic orphanage. (Two older daughters, Ellen and Mary Victoria, remained in England.) According to a Daly family descendant, Daniel reportedly said that he had two choices: “he could send his children to the workhouse or he could send them to Canada.”

Before coming to Canada, many of the British Home Children had spent time in workhouses – institutions designed to provide shelter and mandatory work for people who were struggling to support themselves and their families. There were thousands of workhouses across the United Kingdom in the late 1800s sheltering tens of thousands of the poor and destitute. Conditions were harsh. Families were divided, with children separated from their parents and siblings into children’s homes, some for boys and some for girls. As the costs of running the workhouses and children’s homes escalated, child emigration appeared to offer a cheap and effective alternative. For example, on 1 January 1907 there were 60,421 institutionalized in the United Kingdom, not including reformatories and industrial schools. As council rates went up every year to cover the cost of these children, its easy to see why emigration at £10-£12 per child was so attractive. [Sarah Francis, British Home Children Advisory & Research Association, Facebook.]

From the British perspective at the time, Canada was seen as an ideal destination for endangered poor children. Sparsely populated, Canada retained what Roy Parker calls the “virtues of a rural existence, uncorrupted by the immorality and other depravations associated with urban industrial life.” [Uprooted, 2010] Even better, there was ample agricultural land which could enable immigrant children (especially boys) to establish themselves on family farms. This theory was to prove true for the Daly boys.

After dropping his two sons and two daughters off at St. Patrick’s, Daniel Daly rarely saw them again. He found work with the Hudson’s Bay Company, manning freight wagons to Big River, Green Lake, and Ile a la Crosse. He later worked as medic and cook on boats plying the waters of Lake Athabasca. His last job was at the Driard Hotel in Wetaskiwn, Alberta where he worked as a porter; he died there at age 60 in 1907.

Esther Daly, mother of the four children, briefly reunited with her son Joseph when he went overseas during the First World War. She died in the Dover workhouse on 19 March 1926.

The four Daly children spent their school years at St. Patrick’s. Daniel’s great granddaughter told me that, “though I never met him, I was told that he didn’t have a good experience in the orphanage.” In Part Two of the Daly’s story, I will discuss conditions at the institution in the early days and follow the children into adulthood.

Shattered Lives: British Home Children in Prince Albert

This is the first in a series of columns about the 70 British Home Children sent to St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert between 1901 and 1907. While all orphanage records were destroyed in the terrible fire of 1947, every attempt has been made to trace the life stories of these dispossessed children through genealogy websites and newspaper databases


Readers may recall that several years ago in my “PAssages” column for this newspaper I wrote about the 70 British Home Children, ages 3 to 14, who arrived at St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert between 1901 and 1907. Over 100,000 impoverished children from England were shipped to Canada between 1869 and 1939 to work as farm hands or servants. Only about two percent were orphans; their parents were simply too poor to take care of them.

Since I wrote that column, I have been haunted by the fact that the stories of these children have all but disappeared, either in the records destroyed by the terrible orphanage fire of 1947 or simply lost in the sands of time. As with the subject of my previous column in the Herald, Nan Dorland, I believe they deserve to be remembered.

Imagine my excitement, then, when Jason Kerr, editor of the Herald, asked me if I would be interested in writing another history column for the paper. I immediately said “Yes!” and told him I was considering the British Home Children at the orphanage as my topic. That was months ago. Since then, I have been searching for records for each and every one of the 70 children. With the orphanage records gone up in smoke, there hasn’t been much to go on … except: the Internet.

What a treasure trove of information I have found online about most of these child migrants. Thanks to genealogy sites like Ancestry and FamilySearch I have not only found birth, marriage, and death records, but I have also connected with several of the British children’s descendants who have kindly shared their memories and photos with me. Newspaper indexes like and have revealed obituaries and stories about many of these young people and their families.

Library and Archives Canada has several invaluable databases including ship’s passenger lists, personnel records of the First World War (several of the boys at the orphanage signed up), and Canada census data up to 1926. The national archives even has a database called Home Children Records.

And I cannot say enough about the amazing researchers on the Facebook group, Home Children Canada, (formerly British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association). Whenever a descendant or a researcher like me posts a question about a child emigrant, an army of helpful genealogists jumps to the task of finding out as much as they can about the person and their family. I am truly impressed by, and grateful for, their dedicated efforts “to bring the true stories of the British Home Children to light, maintain their memory, and to reunite the families separated by the child migrant schemes.” Check out their website to learn more:

Not all my research has been online, however. Of course, there are books. And, as always, the staff and volunteers at the Bill Smiley Archives, Prince Albert Historical Museum, have been incredibly helpful, opening their files to try and find information about the orphanage and its “inmates.” The Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, and Janice Trudel, Diocesan Archivist for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Prince Albert, have also provided me with much useful information in my quest to discover the stories of these British Home Children.

Okay! Enough about research and sources! In the coming months, each bi-weekly column will feature a story about one of the 70 children who came to live at St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in the early 1900s. (Several arrived with siblings, so their stories will be combined.) My main goals in telling these stories are 1) to give readers a sense of the conditions in the United Kingdom that led to these children being sent to Canada; and 2) to reveal how their lives unfolded after they arrived.

Ultimately, I hope readers will learn about – or learn more about – British Home Children and the whole child migration scheme. I cannot wait to start introducing you to each of the destitute children who arrived at the Prince Albert orphanage over 120 years ago.

Discovering Nan Dorland: Nan’s son John Danke


The following is the twentieth installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow at or on Instagram @discoveringnan.

20 – Nan’s Son John Danke

John Ernest Albrecht was born August 18, 1950, in Stouffville, Ontario (near Toronto). His 38-year-old mother Nan died three weeks later from complications of childbirth. His father, John Albrecht told Berry Richards in a 1975 interview that his in-laws, Ernest and Ida Danke, came up to Toronto from southern California after Nan’s death. “John, do you want to go prospecting and wouldn’t the boy hamper you?” John quotes Danke as saying, “How would it be if you let me and my wife raise him?” John agreed, and on September 10, 1950 three-week-old John crossed the Canada-US border at Port Huron, Michigan with his father and his maternal grandparents.

After getting his infant son settled in with Nan’s parents in Yorba Linda, California, John Albrecht returned to northern Saskatchewan with Nan’s ashes.

Ernest and Ida adopted Nan’s son, renaming him John Danke. In 1954, the four-year old became an American citizen.

Albrecht continued his life of trapping and prospecting but visited his son in California every year until John was about 10 years old. “Pretty near every year I went, you know, to California,” Albrecht told Berry Richards. “There I stayed from October to March. They had a 35-acre orange grove.”

John Danke attended Vista High School in Vista, California where he was a member of the swim team and a diver during his junior and senior years. He graduated in 1968. 

John’s real talent was as a pianist and organist. Like many other musicians, he got his start as a teenager in a rock-and-roll band. One of his friends from junior high school, Martin Kelley, posted the following story on the Tributes page of John’s obituary:

“In 1964 The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and within weeks a couple of friends and I were getting a band together. I found out that John played an amplified accordion (of all things) and that he had a really large amplifier. I convinced my friends that we should let him into the band and then we would get to use his amp! Lo and behold we found out that this guy was a genuine musician! … You ain’t heard nothin’ until you’ve heard John playing the lead guitar riff of The Byrd’s 8 Miles High on the accordion!! He was truly a wizard!! We were truly blessed to have John in our band and once we got to know him, we embraced him as a beloved and respected friend.”

Nan’s son John attended Chapman College in Orange County, California where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in music theory and composition. He then embarked on a career as a solo artist and accompanist, performing from Montana to Texas, and even giving a recital at the Rachmaninoff Conservatory in Paris.

Albrecht’s good friend Dr. Klaus Lehnert-Thiel lived in La Ronge, Saskatchewan from 1969 to 1979. He told me that during those years John never traveled to California to visit his son. However, in the mid-1970s John Danke went to La Ronge with his grandmother, Ida to visit his father. “They stayed a few days and I had them over for dinner at least once,” Lehnert-Thiel recalls. “His son was a pianist and John egged him on to play more pieces on my old piano but his son somehow balked. The visit did nothing to strengthen the father-son relationship, at least that I could see.” Lehnert-Thiel does not know if the two ever saw each other again after that.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Danke was living in Palm Desert serving as the pianist and accompanist at the College of the Desert. By the late 1980s John was back living with his step-grandmother Ida in Carlsbad, California. Ida Danke passed away in 1987 when John was 37 years old.

In 1991, John Danke met Rabeea (Robert) Shhadeh in Escondido, California. The two became close friends and traveled extensively together. Rabeea told me in a phone call that John visited Germany every year around Christmas. “He wanted to learn as much as he could about his German family,” Rabeea said. In 2015, they went to Germany together to visit John’s family and then to Israel where John met some of Rabeea’s family.

On New Year’s Eve 2015, three months after he and Rabeea returned home from Israel, 65-year-old John Danke collapsed from heart failure while practicing on the organ at St. Patrick’s Church. After he passed away, the tributes poured in. “John was the kindest, most generous person imaginable,” writes Patrick Anderson on the Forever Missed website. “The hole his passing leaves in our lives will be impossible to fill. I don’t know what we will do without the music that he brought into our lives.”

I had hoped that John’s estate might include mementoes of his birth parents, Nan Dorland and John Albrecht. Rabeea told me that John did indeed have family letters and other documents but that these items went to an unnamed family member after John’s death. To date, I have not been able to locate this person to request copies.

NEXT WEEK: Conclusion


Nan and John: A Marriage, a Baby, a Death

The following is the nineteenth installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow at or on Instagram @discoveringnan.

By Joan Champ

In March of 1950, Nan Dorland and John Albrecht left their cabin on Selwyn Lake, Saskatchewan, passing through Prince Albert on their way to Toronto. Nan was four months pregnant. She was 38 years old.

John later told Bob Lee that they wanted the best doctors for Nan due to the many operations she had had for ulcers, so they went to Toronto for the birth of their child. 

Nan and John got married in Toronto on April 29, 1950, their wedding officiated by Rev. J. Norrie Anderson, a United Church minister. The witnesses were the minister’s wife Isobel C. Anderson, and LeRoy A. Tobey, John’s former prospecting partner with whom he had made the Nisto uranium discovery.

In the months leading up to the birth of their son, John and Nan stayed at Musselman’s Lake, located about 6 kilometres northwest of Stouffville. It is now part of the Greater Toronto area. In the mid-1900s, Musselman’s Lake was considered to be the entertainment capital of southern Ontario.

John Ernest Albrecht was born on August 18, 1950 in Brierbush Hospital at Stouffville, Ontario. Brierbush Hospital (1932-1975) was a private nursing hospital that specialized in maternity cases. The attending physician was Dr. F. J. (John) Button of Stouffville. 

Nan Dorland passed away in Women’s College Hospital at Toronto on September 3, 1950 from complications of childbirth. Dr. John Button, the same doctor who had delivered her son, signed her death certificate. 

Specifically, Nan died of strangulation of the bowel because of obstruction due to adhesions from her previous abdominal surgeries. Nan had had two surgeries (that I know of) for a perforated bowel, once in New York City in 1939, and one at Sioux Lookout in 1947. “Bowel obstruction may occur during the fourth or fifth months of pregnancy when the uterus rises into the abdomen but most often occurs in the third trimester or postpartum,” explains Diane J. Angelini in the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health (2004). “When an obstruction occurs, there is significant risk for severe morbidity or mortality for both mother and fetus, and treatment needs to occur as soon as possible. … Fluid and electrolyte losses can be significant, leading to hypovolemia, renal problems, shock, and death.”

After their son was taken to California to live with Nan’s parents, John brought her ashes to their home in northern Saskatchewan.

“There is a sand esker on Selwyn Lake that was very beautiful, This was their favorite spot and was situated close to their cabin. Here they had spent many evenings together, watching the moon rise slowly over the vastness of the lake, listening to the soft breeze of evening playing among the pines, and here the loon would always call from the bay. And the beautiful life they had shared here at this very spot John had enjoyed the happiest time of his life. It was only fitting that here they should part … forever. Some years ago I saw a self-timed photo of John standing behind a stone cross laid out on the sand at this beautiful spot – on which he had moments before scattered the cremated remains of his beloved wife. Pain and anguish clearly showed on his face.” [Source: Bob Lee, The North Called Softly. Prince Albert, SK: Unpublished, 1977. Bill Smiley Archives, Prince Albert Historical Museum.]

“But John survived that terrible agony and did smile again,” Bob Lee continues. “Although he had to force himself to walk the bush prospecting for years afterwards.” Contact:

Nan and John’s Dogsledding Accident


By Joan Champ

The following is the eighteenth installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow at or on Instagram @discoveringnan.

“In the cold, still May air, the barking of sleigh dogs slowly died away as John struggled to catch Nan’s caribou parka hood before she slipped beneath the ice into the cold, swirling waters.” – Bob Lee’s account of a life-or-death incident told to him by John Albrecht. [Source: Lee’s unpublished manuscript, “A Day in the Wilderness,” 1966. Shared with me by Curtis Lee.]

Beginning in early 1949, Nan (Danke / Dorland) Morenus and John Albrecht spent a year and a half together in northern Saskatchewan, dividing their time between Selwyn Lake and Stony Rapids. They were prospecting partners on the hunt for uranium.

 “There’s danger in prospecting,” the unnamed reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald had written on March 21, 1950. He went on to relate the story about the close call the couple had experienced the previous spring while mushing their dog team into the heart of Stony Rapids’ treacherous terrain, as told to him by Nan and John. 

In May of 1949, Nan and John were on their way to their cabin at the south end of Selwyn Lake near the Saskatchewan-Northwest Territories border. They were anxious to begin a summer of prospecting. The couple took their dogsled out onto the lakes and streams even though ice breakup was nearing. “We were on crusted snow – the most dangerous and hardest to gauge of all ice,” Nan explained to the reporter. Without warning, they found themselves, the dogs and the sled slowly sinking through the ice. 

They “swam” ashore – by crawling with a swimming motion over the surface of the slushy snow. “We could hear water gurgling underneath,” Nan said. But the dogs – and the precious supply sled – were stuck 100 feet from safety. According to the Herald’s reporter, John made two trips out over the deep-snow-coated waters to pull the lead dog slowly, inch by inch, to shore.

Bob Lee’s account of the accident, as told to him by John, provides more detail about the incident. John and Nan had left Stony Rapids three weeks before the accident but had spent those three weeks camping on the shores of Black Lake to hunt caribou and fatten up their team of nine part-wolf, part-husky sled dogs. The dogs would have to fend for themselves over the summer and Nan and John would not be taking their dogs with them on their prospecting excursions. (Sled dogs were often left on islands over the summer months.)

The night before they left for Selwyn Lake, Lee writes, John deliberately camped near the mouth of the Chipman River so they could cross the dangerous narrows in the early morning frost, hoping that the ice had thickened overnight. The sled dogs were eager to start after gorging themselves on fat, barren-land caribou. As they approached the narrows, “John tried to keep [the dogs] to the obviously safe ice of the north shore,” Lee continues. “But as they ran almost uncontrolled down the dangerous central part he tried to steer them toward a bridge of older ice that looked safer.” This is where the dogsled, loaded with groceries, tent, rifle, and all the necessities of life in the bush, broke through the ice.

What follows is Bob Lee’s account of the dogsledding accident. It may be embellished.

“The sleigh, on top of which Nan was sitting … slowly broke through the thin ice up to the creels (canvas sides) and half floated in the cold water as the nine dogs whined and swam in their harness.

John, after thirty years in the north, realized at once the grave danger of this setting. He knew at once that his dear wife Nan, himself, his dogs, and his complete outfit could easily slip beneath these waters and would probably never be found.

Nan broke through the ice as she jumped from the top of the load. With lightning speed [John] managed to grab the hood of the caribou parka she was wearing and drag her back upon the sleigh which was still stuck where the load had pushed out the creel. He instructed her to crawl, ever… so… lightly from the sleigh in a trough-like depression filled with water on the weak ice to the timbered shore and their only hope of safety.

When Nan was twenty yards from the sleigh, John also started a nerve-wrenching crawl over the soft, rubber ice, but not towards the shore and safety, but towards his beloved [dog team] leader, Jumbo. ‘Jumbo, come Jumbo,’ could be heard above the sounds of Nan trying to break off a dry, 40-foot tamarack that stood dead and dark against the forest. Jumbo whined in the harness and fought his way through broken ice towards his master.

John slipped his fingers under Jumbo’s collar as soon as his head appeared over the edge of the ice and pulled the leader and himself towards the shore. Nan cried, ‘Grab this pole!’ after John had only gone a few yards. Soon, Nan was pulling John, Jumbo and the other dogs, sleigh and provisions over the soft ice to the comforts of a pail of tea by a riverside fire. Yes, just one day in the wilderness.” Hmmm… I am Nan’s biggest fan, but I have trouble believing that, after she fell into the freezing water, she was able to crawl to shore, cut down a tamarack, start a fire, make tea, and pull hundreds of pounds of man, dogs, sled, and provisions to safety with the tamarack pole! I am sure there is truth to at least part of the story. What do you think?

The Nisto Find: “By God, That’s Uranium!”


By Joan Champ

The following is the seventeenth installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow at or on Instagram @discoveringnan.

By 1948, John Albrecht, future husband of Nan Dorland, was living in Stony Rapids and trapping from a base camp on Selwyn Lake which straddles the Saskatchewan-Northwest Territories border. In June of that year John became the prospecting partner of Leroy (Roy) Tobey (1905-1985), a prospector and former civil service engineer from Meota, Saskatchewan. 

“The year 1948 saw the lifting of the veil of secrecy from uranium and prospecting was thrown open to sourdoughs,” the Regina Leader-Post reported on February 18, 1950. The United States government’s desire to acquire as much uranium as possible from Canada drove the development of uranium mines in northern Saskatchewan. By 1948, Canada had entered into large contracts with the US Atomic Energy Commission. The federal crown corporation, Eldorado Mining and Refining Limited, was the only legal purchaser of uranium ore and prior to 1948, and had full control over the development of Saskatchewan’s uranium deposits.

In March of 1948, Joe Phelps, Minister of Natural Resources for the Government of Saskatchewan announced that 40 individuals would be assisted with prospecting activities in the province’s north. The Prospector’s Assistance Plan (PAP) provided prospectors with free mining licenses, free air transportation from La Ronge or Flin Flon, the loan of supplies and equipment for two months in the bush (not including pack sacks and bedroll), cash awards for new finds, and assistance from qualified geologists in the assaying and recording of claims. (StarPhoenix, March 11, 1948; Feb. 25, 1949.) The goal of the PAP was to open up the mineral potential of the north.

Tobey was working under the PAP when he and Albrecht became prospecting partners. In August of 1948, after about three months of fruitless prospecting for uranium – their clothes in rags, their food provisions almost gone – John decided to give up and head back to his cabin to look after his traplines. Before leaving, John suggested they pick up his bear trap at Black Lake. Within hours after making camp at Black Lake, Tobey’s Geiger counter started making noise. The partners eagerly dug into the moss and discovered pitchblende (now known as uraninite), a radioactive, uranium-rich, iron-red rock veined in black.

“We were [camped] about five miles away from Black River. And so, along the ridge I was going towards home,” John recalls in a 1975 interview with Berry Richards. “So I hear crashing. What the devil, I said, that must be Tobey. Hello! Hollering ,… By god, he got the first kicks [from the Geiger counter], you know. Excited! … So, by god, that’s uranium. So, you know, by 11:00 o’clock in the night we had the whole Nisto shoal discovered.” (“Nisto” is the Cree word for “three” but it is not clear why it was applied to the Nisto mine.) 

The twosome traced out a 2,400-foot zone of radioactive activity before splitting up. Tobey, the only one of the two who was working under the PAP, headed to Regina to register their claim. Albrecht headed back up north to check his traps, taking Tobey’s Geiger counter with him. 

Tobey took out a concession over a 25-square-mile area for both himself and Albrecht to give their claim some protection. Initially, they received no offers for their claim, but eventually Tobey’s and Albrecht’s discovery “set the mining world right back on its heels.” (StarPhoenix, March 20, 1951.) It was followed by a rush by many others for the government’s adjacent concessions. Trans-Continental Resources (TR) from Toronto recognized the potential of the find and offered Tobey and Albrecht each $15,000 for their claim. Subsequently, TR created Nisto Mines Ltd. for the purpose of developing the property.

“My god, I was there, you know, in the cabin,” Albrecht told Richards. “There comes a Hudson’s Bay man, sends a wire with an Indian. … Tobey had the contract sent out, you know, for me to sign. So, we read, with the Hudson’s Bay man, the contract. Sounded good. $30,000 – $15,000 for me, $15,000 for [Tobey]. 300,000 shares. $3 million share company firm. $150,000 each. I thought, ‘This is the first clear money.’ I signed! No other way!” John and his partner Roy Tobey made a considerable amount of money on the Nisto find. However, Nisto Mines Ltd. was not large enough to be profitable. (Today, Forum Energy Metals Corporation is re-exploring the area directly adjacent to the historic Nisto property.) As for John’s riches, he later chuckled when he told his friend Bob Lee, “I put most of the money back in the ground!” He was always searching for another mine.

Discovering Nan Dorland — John Albrecht’s Years as a Trapper


By Joan Champ

The following is the fifteenth installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow at or on Instagram @discoveringnan.

15 – John Albrecht’s Years as a Trapper

Nan’s second husband John Albrecht arrived in Regina, Saskatchewan on June 1, 1929. As he could not speak English, he went to work for a German farmer near Bulyea north of the Queen City. John worked there until threshing was over, then moved to the St. Walburg area. He worked for a year on the homestead of Adolph Studer, a farmer and trapper who spoke a little German. With Studer’s encouragement, John left in the fall of 1930 to become a trapper in the Big River area; he stayed there for four years. “I was not so bad,” John later told Berry Richards. “I made quite a few dollars with weasels; in the spring, rats [muskrats].” [Source: Richard’s interview with Albrecht, July 14, 1975. Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan, audio recording R-A873.]

It was while he was at Big River that John began to learn English. He ordered books from mining people in Big River, receiving at least 20 books on minerals and geology. These books not only helped him learn English, they also sparked his interest in prospecting.

While at Big River, a trapper named Ragnar Jonsson from Wollaston Lake talked John into moving further north and east to Wollaston. In June of 1934, John headed out, buying a canoe, more traps, and five sled-dog puppies from local Dene people at Pinehouse Lake. “The puppies were small, but they could run behind me,” John recalled. “And there I went on a trip – I tell you!” He trekked through hundreds of kilometres of wilderness to Wollaston Lake, paddling and portaging along the way with close to 800 pounds on his back, including a canoe. 

John reached Wollaston Lake by the end of September 1934, only to discover that his friend Ragnar Jonsson had just left for Reindeer Lake and then further north to Nueltin Lake. “So I was alone there. Alone on Wollaston,” he lamented to Richards. “The Chipewyan had a rough year and even they didn’t come. So, I was just clean alone there. There was nothing. That’s the damnedest north, you know? It’s one hell of a long stretch.” Clearly, it was a lonely time for him. 

John trapped in the Wollaston Lake region for three or four years. Les Oystryk, a historian from Creighton, Saskatchewan, who has done considerable research into the life and work of Jim Cumines, a fish and game warden stationed at Brochet on Reindeer Lake, generously shared information that he has culled from Cumines’ reports relating to John Albrecht. 

Cumines first met John in May of 1936 during a patrol of Wollaston Lake. John had been trapping under a license issued in the name of “John Gilbert,” telling the warden that the license issuer had misspelled his name. Seven months later when Cumines encountered John again, he was still using the same license issued in the name of Gilbert.

Was John hiding his German ancestry? He had applied for, but not yet obtained his naturalization papers from the Canadian government and was considered an “enemy alien.” Trouble was brewing in Germany. According to Oystryk, Cumines eventually issued a non-resident trapping license to John so he could sell his furs.

In 1937, John moved up to Brochet, Manitoba, on the northern end of Reindeer Lake. That summer, he served as the guide for P. G. Downes on a journey to Neultin Lake. (Watch for an account of this trip in my next column.)

Immediately after the outbreak of the Second World War, John disappeared into Saskatchewan’s far north. After spending over two years in a British prisoner-of-war camp during the First World War, he feared being imprisoned again.

Unbeknownst to him, John had been granted a certificate of naturalization by the Government of Canada on September 9, 1937, but it never reached him. The certificate had been mailed to him at Brochet, but unfortunately it had been returned to Canada’s Naturalization Branch by the Post Office. 

Cumines determined that, in the spring of 1940, John had flown to Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan, where he formed a trapping partnership with a Swede named Oscar Johnson, a man in his 70s. The two of them lived in a cabin at Selwyn Lake north of Stony Rapids and split their fur proceeds 50/50. The two also did some prospecting, finding gold, nickel and copper. The trapping supplied the money for prospecting. “We made more than we needed,” John told Berry Richards. “We had always money,”

Oscar Johnson decided to quit the north in 1945. After a few years trapping out of Selwyn Lake, the 75-year-old told John, “I can’t take it anymore.”

Three years later, John’s life changed dramatically. He co-discovered a major uranium source and got a new partner – Nan Dorland – who shared the same cabin at Selwyn Lake that he had previously shared with Oscar Johnson.

Discovering Nan Dorland – John Albrecht’s early years


The following is the fourteenth installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow at or on Instagram @discoveringnan.

Nan’s second husband John Erdmann Albrecht was born in East Prussia on December 7, 1898 and raised on the Baltic Sea where his father, a Prussian civil servant, was in charge of a lighthouse on the northeastern end of the Curonian Spit. “There between the Memel River and the long narrow sandspit, with the Baltic Sea to the west and the Curonian Lagoon to the east, John spent his youth in an unspoiled environment of unmatched beauty,” writes Dr. Klaus Lehnert-Thiel in his friend John’s 1991 obituary for the La Ronge newspaper, The Northerner. “Fishing, hunting, trapping, skating, and sailing were activities the young John Albrecht enjoyed from a very young age.”

John’s family lived in or near the town of Memel (now Klaipeda). His father Johann Albrecht commuted between their residence and the lighthouse. To facilitate travel during the winter, Johann invented a sailing boat on skids. “In doing so,” Lehnert-Thiel writes, “he became the forerunner and acknowledged inventor of a new sport which 50 years later became widely accepted.”

In August 1914, just weeks before the outbreak of the First World War, Russia invaded East Prussia, forcing thousands, including the Albrecht family, to flee. The Germans fought back, and by the end of the Battle of Tannenberg (August 27-September 13) over 90,000 were captured and 70,000 were killed or wounded – a devastating defeat for Russia. “I remember John telling me that [he] and his family were living in a refugee camp with nothing to do,” Dr. Lehnert-Thiel told me. “As a bored 16-year-old he volunteered to serve in the [German] army.”

As a teenager, John saw continuous front-line action as a machine-gunner in the Schwarze Division (“Black Berets”) for over two years. He was captured by the British on June 7, 1917 at the Battle of at Flanders, Belgium near Ypres. 

John spent two and a half years in a British prisoner-of-war camp. Prison, while not a happy place to be, must nevertheless have been an immense relief for him after the extreme violence and danger he had experienced on the battlefield. He later told interviewer Berry Richards (1975) that he met a Canadian of Scottish descent while in the POW camp. John learned about Canada from their conversations. “Why stay in Germany?” the Canadian apparently asked John. “Get into Canada.”

German prisoners were repatriated by the British in the spring of 1920. After his release, John returned to his home in Memel which had by then been placed under the protection of France under the Treaty of Versailles. His plan, according to Lehnert-Thiel, was to look after farm property owned or managed by his father.

In 1923, the Treaty of Versailles was broken when Lithuania revolted against French occupation. An ethnic struggle ensued when most people in Memel region opted to emigrate to Germany rather than stay under Lithuanian rule. (Less than 600 of 150,000 opted for Lithuania.).

“Either the heavy-handed Lithuanian administration or John’s nationalistic feelings made it difficult for him to remain in his home country,” Lehnert-Thiel explains, “and precipitated his emigration to Canada in 1929.” He applied in 1925 and by 1929 he had his visa and passport. 

On April 24, 1929, 30-year-old John waved goodbye to his sisters and brother on the pier at the Port of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland) and sailed for Canada on the Baltic America Line’s ship named SS Polonia. He arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia on May 5 and took the Canadian National Railway west to Regina, Saskatchewan. It wasn’t long before he headed north where he spent the next four decades as a trapper and prospector.


Discovering Nan Dorland: Richard writes a book


The following is the twelfth installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow at or on Instagram @discoveringnan.

“They all said I was crazy,” Richard Morenus begins in his book, Crazy White Man. “When I finally began to agree with them, it was then too late for me to do anything about it. I was seated in a canoe, well past the last outpost of civilization, headed northward toward the bit of insular real estate I had bought, sight unseen, deep in the Canadian bush country. … I was on my own.” 

But of course, Richard was not on his own. When he arrived on what is now Winoga Island near Sioux Lookout, Ontario in early May of 1941 he was accompanied by his wife Nan. Together, the couple lived on the island for six years, with Nan proving herself more than capable of surviving in the remote outdoors. There must have been severe strains on the Morenus marriage during these years, for they were divorced in 1947. 

Richard omits Nan completely from Crazy White Man, published by Rand McNally in 1952. He may have felt, some would say correctly, that a story of a man surviving alone in northern Ontario for six years made for a more entertaining story, benefiting his book sales. Details like a wife did not fit with his carefully constructed man-against-nature account. It is also possible that, even though Nan had died two years earlier, Richard decided to expunge his former wife from his narrative due to lingering animosity after their divorce. Or perhaps he did not want to upset his new, sixth wife Nora by writing anything about his fifth wife Nan.

After Richard’s split with Nan in 1946, he moved back to the United States and settled down to write Crazy White Man, the first of his six books. On July 27, 1947, the Escanaba Daily News reported that Richard and his “wife” Nora (they were married a year later) were spending the summer at a cottage near Munising, Michigan where he was writing a book on his experiences in Canada.

Crazy White Man received many positive reviews. The Chicago Tribune praised it as “a little classic of the rugged life,” while the Christian Science Monitor called it “one of the best escapes from city pressures.” “Respect for Mr. Morenus’ courage and hardihood grows with every page we read,” Canadian writer Robertson Davies effused in his review in the New York Times.

Richard travelled extensively to promote his book. He became known as a gifted teller of tales of his solo adventure in the wilds of northern Canada. “Morenus is one of those author rarities who is a gifted speaker,” the Eau Claire Leader Telegram enthused. “Audiences like his amusing tales of personal adventure, they chuckle as he directs his humorous barbs at himself and they learn new things about the Canadian bush with its Indians and trappers.”

Morenus’ portrayal of Ontario’s Ojibway people is racist and patronizing throughout Crazy White Man. His use of terminology for Indigenous peoples commonly used in the 1940s and 1950s is jarring to today’s readers – words like “squaw” and “buck” and “savage.” On intermarriage he writes, “No, the lone white man living on an equal basis will not raise the squaw to his level, but the squaw, with passive aboriginal certainty, will inevitably reduce him to hers.” He called the traditions of the Ojibway “superstitions,” saying these were being combated through the “process of evangelizing” in residential schools under the joint control of church and government. He attempted to acquire some understanding of their language which he called a “confusing collection of grunts, groans, wails, and hisses.” 

Why are there no photos in Crazy White Man even though Richard and Nan had a camera with them – that they used? First, it would have destroyed the illusion (which it was) that he was alone in the bush. Nan would have either been in the photos or she would have been the photographer. Second, I think Richard destroyed all the photos of their time on the island. Through a series of events, I now possess hundreds of photographs that Richard left behind. There is not a single photo of Nan in the box, nor is there a single photo of the island they lived on together for six years.

“I didn’t get used to the cold, the storms, the blizzards, or the rains,” Richard concludes. “I didn’t get used to the unending struggle against the elements. I didn’t get used to hard physical work. I endured them all, but I didn’t get used to any of them.”

Richard wanted to demonstrate to his readers the struggle and achievement of his six years in northern Ontario. He had persevered through numerous challenges, he tells us, and in the end reached a personal triumph. I for one, however, cannot forget that Nan Dorland shared that triumph with him.


Discovering Nan Dorland: The Morenus Marriage Ends

by Joan Champ

The following is the tenth installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow at or on Instagram @discoveringnan.

“Isolation is a special pitfall to the couples in the wilderness. Key to the domestic economy, as crucial as loading firewood, are measures the couple take to avoid crowding each other, rubbing up against each other to the point of irritation.”  – Randall Roorda, “Wilderness Wives,” 2005.

The Morenus’ first years at their cabin on the island near Sioux Lookout were busy ones, so there was little time for squabbles. Nan had found many activities to occupy her time while Richard wrote. She learned how to set snares, how to bake bannock and bread, how to drive a dog team, how to fish through the ice, and how to hunt and butcher venison. She also took her turns at the typewriter.

Was there competition between Nan and Richard as they navigated wilderness living? Whatever the causes of the Morenus’ tension in the wilds of northern Ontario, their marriage did not survive the strain. By early 1946 Nan’s marriage to Richard Morenus was over.

According to their divorce decree of June 1947, Nan had “wilfully deserted and absented herself” from Richard “without any reasonable cause and without fault on his part” since the day of February 22, 1946. It was one of the grounds for a divorce in the State of Illinois in those years. To achieve that, they had to live apart for over a year. Richard moved to Chicago.

On September 26, 1946, Richard sold his interest in their beloved island to Nan for a dollar. Six months later, Nan sold the island to a Chicago couple for $7500, making a tidy profit on the land sale. It is likely that Richard facilitated this sale to ensure that Nan was looked after financially after their divorce.

Nan continued to live in northern Ontario on her own throughout 1946 and at least part of 1947. On February 21, 1947, she was admitted to Sioux Lookout Hospital for eight days. It is possible, based on her article in Maclean’s called “The Woman’s Bushed” (August 15, 1947), that Nan had another emergency surgery for her chronic abdominal problems. In that article she mentions her long convalescence after “months of fever, pain and the smothering confinement of sickness.” 

About a month or so after Nan was released from hospital and while she was still recovering from her illness, Nan embarked on a major adventure with a man she refers to only as “Joe.” The twosome took a 240-kilometre, 20-portage canoe trip in search of high-grade ore. They did not find what they were looking for, but Nan was excited to get back into the bush and do some prospecting. It was her latest passion.

Meanwhile, by the summer of 1947 Richard was living with a woman named Nora Smith.

The Morenus’ divorce hearing took place on June 19, 1947 at the Superior Court of Cook County. Nan did not attend the hearing.

When asked about the circumstances leading up to his separation from Nan on February 22, 1946, Richard testified,“It was necessary for me to make a business trip and be away for a considerable length of time and she refused to accompany me and said she would rather live by herself. Living as we were it would be impossible for her to live alone. If I stayed there, it would mean giving up my business. We were living on an island and there was no one there to take care of the heat but myself and she couldn’t possible live there alone. She said, ‘You live your life and I will live mine’ and she took a place to live and we lived separately since.”

Richard also stated that he had tried to get Nan to come back to the United States with him, but she had refused to come back.

Frank Ross, a friend of Richard’s, gave a deposition in Toronto on June 6, 1947. Ross said Richard had left Sioux Lookout in August 1946 to take a job in Chicago, but that Nan had refused to accompany him. “I was advised by the husband that he had reason to believe that the wife had been unfaithful to him,” he testified.

On June 27, 1947, Richard and Nan’s divorce was official. Just over a year later, on October 1, 1948, Richard married Nora Smith. It was his sixth marriage. 

I have not been able to determine Nan’s whereabouts from August of 1947 until she turned up in northern Saskatchewan in the autumn of 1948. By then, she was determined to become a prospector.


Discovering Nan Dorland: writing in the bush

by Joan Champ

The following is the ninth installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow at or on Instagram @discoveringnan.

In 1941, when Nan and Richard Morenus gave up city life and moved to an island in Ontario bush country, a typewriter accompanied them. For the next six years both Nan and Richard wrote articles and radio scripts to finance their new wilderness life.

It was Nan’s ambition to be a writer. While she collaborated with Richard in the writing of radio scripts during the late 1930s, to my knowledge it was another decade before any of her work was published. 

On October 15, 1946, Nan’s first-ever magazine article “Jim Chief” was published in Maclean’s. The editor wrote that it was “one of the best articles we have ever published by a beginner.”

Nan wrote her article in “no set writing hours, due to the exigencies of bush life,” she told the editor of Maclean’s. “The piece, written last winter, took about four months of snatching minutes out of her routine of baking bread, snaring rabbits, driving a dog team to help haul wood, butchering venison, knitting socks and mitts, fishing through ice, washing fleece-lined underwear, and cooking four meals a day to keep her husband and herself fortified against those biting northern temperatures – as cold as 50 below zero,” MacLean’s wrote. “She says writing this article about Old Jim was always a joy, because he was her favorite bush character.”

Like other portrayals of Indigenous peoples during the 1940s, however, Nan’s story of Jim Chief – while sympathetic – contains racist, condescending, and patronizing language. This is clear from the opening paragraph. “Early November freeze-up was threatening when Jim Chief and his squaw paddled up to our island on their first official visit. Jim was our nearest neighbor on our northern lake—a tattered, aged Ojibway we were soon to know as a reprobate and a rascal, and so charming that it was impossible not to like him.”

Nan and Richard became friends with Jim Chief, who “came by the Island regularly, exhibiting a wistful, almost pitiful need to chat,” Nan writes. “He would sit in a corner of the cabin an hour or more until, having talked himself out, he would rise abruptly and shuffle out the door with a vague backward gesture of farewell.”

Once, when Richard was away in New York on business connected to their radio writing, Jim Chief helped Nan get out of a sticky situation. Three intoxicated white men showed up at the island. “There was an ugliness to their drunkenness that made me uneasy,” Nan writes. Fortunately, Jim Chief, who paddled by the island every day to check on Nan, chose that moment to show up. Nan signaled to him. She describes what happened next:

“I glanced behind me. All three men were sprawled on the cabin steps and demanding that I join them. [Jim Chief] sat motionless in the [canoe] in an attitude of watchful waiting. … With his wide-brimmed, battered old hat jammed low on his brow, the droop of that left eyelid somehow managed a sinister look. And better still, the barrel of his venerable rifle protruded over the bow of the canoe. … Innocently slung there, it now presented unexpected menace by pointing directly at my three unwelcome guests. … Gradually the drinking party on my cabin steps dissolved. The men filed by me, keeping a weather eye on the ominous character in the canoe gazing so steadily at them from behind the well-armed bow. In a remarkably short time the loaded skiff was offshore, the faulty motor resumed its half-hearted, intermittent putt-putting up the river, and the men were out of sight.”

Eventually Jim Chief grew ill and his visits to the Morenuses stopped. “To our surprise we missed him greatly,” Nan writes. “Life in the bush without Jim Chief appearing with his gossip, his schemes, his primordial guile left a hole in our existence as gaping as the loss of one of the seasons.” 

The editor noted at the end of Nan’s article that, just as the story was going to press, Maclean’s received a hurried note from her. “Old Jim,” she wrote, “was found dead in his wigwam some six weeks following my completion of his story. And now the lakes and bush are empty indeed.”


Discovering Nan Dorland – The exhilaration of dogsledding

by Joan Champ

The following is the eighth installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow at or on Instagram @discoveringnan.

For a couple from New York accustomed to getting around by streetcars, elevated trains, buses, and subways, the northern Ontario wilderness presented unique transportation challenges. When Nan and Richard Morenus first arrived at their island in May of 1941, everything they needed had to be transported from Sioux Lookout across 22 kilometres (14 miles) of water by canoe. Then winter arrived.

“We had overlooked nothing,” Richard writes in “Dogs on Ice” for Maclean’s magazine (Sept. 15, 1948), “except the very simple fact that our canoe and motor would be of no further use, and that for the seven months of winter stretching ahead we had not taken into consideration the basic problem of transportation.”

Travelling to Sioux Lookout on snowshoes was “a nightmare,” Richard continues. They needed to get some dogs. They put out the word to a few trappers and fur traders, built some doghouses, and eventually ordered by mail, sight unseen, a team of dogs.

“Nan was ecstatic when we first saw our dogs in town,” exclaims Richard. “They were massive-shouldered, burly, beautiful brutes.” There were only three in the team, part dog and part wolf. Nan and Richard worked feverishly in front of an amused audience of Ojibway to assemble the harness and fasten the dogs to their toboggan in the cold. Then Richard, who had no knowledge of dogsled teams other than what he had read in books, yelled “Mush!” and was promptly knocked flat.

“I had a quick glimpse of Nan making a flying leap for the toboggan as it flew past. Somehow she held on,” Richard recounts. “I got to my feet and watched them as they became a bobbing black dash against the snow until they disappeared over a crest. Then the Indians laughed.”

Richard had to walk back to the cabin through knee-deep snow, following the team’s trail. When he finally arrived, Nan had the three dogs chained up at the doghouses. “How did you do it?” he asked. “It was wonderful,” she said. “Remember the week we spent on a farm? I tried that ‘gee,’ ‘haw,’ and ‘whoa’ business the farmer used on his horses —and it worked. I’ve never had such a thrilling ride in my life!”

Richard wrote in Crazy White Man that, while he had always loved dogs, he struggled with the sled dogs. “They looked like dogs, but there the similarity ended,” he writes.

“I tried to make friends with them, but upon my approach their hackles bristled stiffly, and they regarded me with that blinkless stare of their slanted topaz eyes. … The look I got from all of them was pure unadulterated cussedness.” Richard was afraid of, and distrusted, the dogs. He decided that the only way to master the wolf strain in the dogs was to beat them. “The subsequent unmerciful beatings I had to administer to these animals were done with both eyes on the wolf,” Richard explains.

“The dogs resigned eventually, and quite docilely after a few ministrations from an ax handle, to my harnessing them.” He later told his book tour audiences that the beatings got to be sort of a ritual that the dogs expected. “On days when he didn’t work the team,” one newspaper wrote, “Morenus said he would beat the dogs anyway, just to show that he still loved them.”

Nan loved the dogs and mastered dogsledding right away. Mushing dogs was a skill she took with her when she moved to go prospecting in northern Saskatchewan.


Discovering Nan Dorland – “This is the bush, and I love it!”

by Joan Champ

The following is the seventh installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow at or on Instagram @discoveringnan

It took Nan and Richard Morenus five days to travel from Manhattan to Sioux Lookout, Ontario. They were granted permanent entry into Canada at the Pigeon River, Ontario border crossing on May 4, 1941.

Their first stop in Sioux Lookout was the Hollywood Cafe owned by Tom and Ken Lee where they ate lunch “under the questioning gaze of Indians and bushmen,” Richard writes in his September 1, 1946 article for Maclean’s magazine, “From Broadway to Bush.” They were obviously “those crazy Americans” who had bought the island and were moving there to live. “That’s something you’ll have to get used to,” Ken Lee told Richard. “You’re something of a curiosity. It isn’t every day that an American, especially a New Yorker, comes to the bush to live.”

The couple was ferried over to the island where their cabin, about 100 feet inland from shore, was nestled in a stand of birch. Their first task was to repair the cabin. The log walls were solid and in good condition, but the windows needed new casements and screens, the doors needed to be refitted, and the roof, which leaked in at least a dozen places, had to be fixed. Blankets had to be mended and mattresses patched. Firewood had to be sawed, split and piled before winter.

By October of 1941, they had things in good shape. Their 18’ x 20’ cabin was partitioned into three sections: a kitchen-dining-office-living space; a bedroom with closet; and a food storage-wash room. At the end of the kitchen room were bookshelves and a table they used as a desk. Homemade rag rugs covered the floor.

“Up to our arrival the hardest work Nan had done was to hold a script in soft, well-manicured hands and stand before a microphone,” Richard observes.” But by that October sore and painful blisters had developed into work-toughened calluses.”
Richard asked Nan if she missed New York. “This isn’t half as bad as trying to get a part on Broadway, or auditioning for a new radio show,” Nan replied. “That’s work. This is the bush, and I love it. This is fun. Now come on, we’ll just have time to get in the last of that red pine we sawed up. That mallard I shot’s in the oven. We’re having it for supper, and can you get that on 6th Avenue?”

Nan soon learned to set snares, augmenting their venison fare with rabbit stew. She made bannock and baked bread. Within a year, Nan could hunt her own deer and skin it herself. She could repair her snowshoes, weaving a new babiche from deer hide.
“When will we go back?” Richard asked Nan. “My moccasins are soft on my feet when I walk in the woods,” she replied. “I’d miss my canoe. My dog team would be lonesome if I should leave them. I have more freedom than anyone else in the world. And where else 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!”


Discovering Nan Dorland: Nan and Richard Cut Loose for the Canadian Wilderness

The following is the sixth installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow at or on Instagram @discoveringnan.

“My wife and I had been stop-watch slaves in New York for more than ten years,” Richard Morenus writes in Maclean’s magazine (“From Broadway to Bush, Sept. 1, 1946). “I, as writer-director of network programs, [Nan] as one of the more popular actresses who suffer daily in serials before the microphone.” The cost of obeying the studio clock “was great in ruined digestions, tired bodies, and nerves as taut as piano wires,” Morenus continues. “Something had to snap. It had been Nan.”

In 1939, Nan, suffering severe abdominal pain, underwent emergency surgery in New York for a perforated ulcer. “It was the intense competition of acting that caused her health to deteriorate,” Nan’s second husband John Albrecht later told his friend Bob Lee. “After several ulcer operations, the doctors demanded that she change occupations or her life would be in jeopardy.” [Source: Bob Lee, The North Called Softly. Prince Albert, Saskatchewan: Self-published, 1977.]

After Nan’s emergency operation, her surgeon told Richard that her radio career was over. “No more stage work, no more making motion pictures, no more metropolitan living. Oh, she’ll be all right, she’ll be perfectly healthy,” the doctor added quickly, “but her nerves won’t be able to take any more of that stuff. My advice is that you get her out into the country. You’ve always liked the outdoors, Dick, and it’s Nan’s salvation to live away from the city so you might just as well make up your mind to it.”

During Nan’s convalescence, she and Richard made the life-changing decision “to cut loose and carve a year-round existence out of the wilderness” in northern Ontario. They got out a map of Ontario and traced a road running north to the small town of Sioux Lookout. “Here, then, was what we were looking for,” Richard writes. “This would be our starting point. No motor road to the north. No railroad to the north. Nothing to the north but wilderness.”

In 1940, the Morenuses wrote to the Sioux Lookout Chamber of Commerce and soon learned about a nine-acre island on Abram Lake that had once been a tourist camp. The island was 14 miles by water from Sioux Lookout, and came complete with cabins, and icehouse, a storehouse, canoes, and other outfitting equipment.

On November 16, 1940, Richard and Nan bought the Dubois’ island, sight unseen, for $1200.

The day the deed to their island in northern Ontario arrived in November 1940, Nan and Richard held a little celebration. After that, they started “burning bridges — the contacts with the advertising agencies, and recording companies, and the film companies with which we had worked,” Richard recalls in his 1946 Maclean’s article. “The most spectacular conflagration took place when I quit my job as executive staff writer with NBC, and we watched the security of a steady pay cheque go up in smoke. In the embers lay my experience of over 10 years active affiliation with the [radio] networks, and the end of Nan’s successful career as an actress.”

The couple spent their final days in New York getting rid of everything they owned – things “that would be of no practical use in a land of coal-oil lamps and wood stoves.” They also shopped for wilderness wear and equipment. “Unfortunately,” Richard writes his book in Crazy White Man (1952), “wherever I went to shop, I found no salesman who had ever been north of Albany [New York]. … The clothes I bought were heavy, bulky, colourful, and expensive!” Nan’s task in buying bush clothes was even more challenging. The outdoors was considered to be male turf, so women were left to their own devices to work out their wardrobe problems.

The night before they left New York, Nan and Richard partied with their head-shaking friends who were certain the couple was doomed and gone forever. The next morning without fanfare, they loaded their suitcases, boxes, a typewriter, and their cocker spaniel Nik into their coupe and headed north. It was May 1, 1941.

Discovering Nan Dorland – Nan Marries Richard Morenus

by Joan Champ

The following is the fifth installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow at or on Instagram @discoveringnan.

On October 15, 1936, Nan married Richard C. Morenus (1894-1968) in New York City. She was about to turn 25 and he was 42. It is likely they met during the early 1930s when Richard’s advertising agency was selling advertising spots for radio in the Windy City.

The marriage certificate reveals some interesting information. For example, Richard claimed that this was his second marriage, when in fact it was his fifth. Curiously, Nan, whose legal name was Annette Evangeline Danke, recorded her name on the certificate as her mother’s name, Evangeline Hield Danke.


Some of the best fishing in the State of New York was at Congers Lake on the west shore of the Hudson River, about 30 miles north of New York City. This is where Nan and Richard chose to spend their honeymoon.

The newlyweds rented a rowboat and went fishing for bass and pickerel. Unfortunately, the only photographs that survive from the Morenus’ honeymoon are ones of Richard taken by Nan (shown here). There are no photos of Nan in the collection I acquired, so I have to assume they were destroyed by Richard or by his sixth wife Nora.

(Some background: I wrote a letter to the editor of the Sioux Lookout Bulletin requesting information about Nan and Richard Morenus. After reading my letter, the current owners of the island on which the couple lived from 1941 to 1947 sent me a box containing hundreds of photographs of Richard Morenus from infancy to old age. The collection was heavily culled – likely by Richard or perhaps by Nora – as there are no photos of Nan or any of Richard’s other ex-wives.)

Nan’s love of the great outdoors may have started on her honeymoon with Richard. “Few girls are good fisherwomen,” an article in the Vermont newspaper The Landmark on August 18, 1938 states, “but Nan Dorland, who plays Kathleen in ‘Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories,’ is so good that she even insists on making her own trout flies and bass lures.” The article goes on to say that Nan “tried forty original dry flies for trout fishing last spring and her bass lures, or bugs, are so good she’s going to patent them.”  (I have not yet found any record of Nan’s bass lure patent in the United States.)  

Life in New York City

Nan and Richard were both working in radio at the time of their marriage – he in advertising then as a writer and Nan as a performer. At the time of their wedding, they lived at 33 West 51st Street, a block away from NBC studios at Rockefeller Centre. They soon moved into a 10-storey, 104-unit apartment building called Randolph House, 135 East 50th Street, about half a block off Lexington Avenue in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. 

The couples’ salaries from NBC would not have been high. According to Robert Eichberg, in 1937 big radio stars like Kate Smith and Eddie Cantor were paid $7500 per episode, but staff performers made much less. Announcers might have been paid $50 to $90 per week, while singers made as little as $25 per week. “Staff script writers worked on a low weekly salary; only those turning out exclusive material or star get more.” [Source: Robert Eichberg, Radio Stars of Today, 1937.]  Richard would have been paying alimony to at least some of his previous four wives and child support for his only son. Nan, on the other hand, may have been receiving income from her mother’s estate or other family sources. I have no evidence of this, however.

Still, the Morenuses had a comfortable lifestyle enhanced by a dog – a cocker spaniel named Nik – which they took for daily walks along Lexington Avenue. They also had a car – a coupe – into which they loaded Nik, a typewriter, and other belongings when they moved to northern Ontario in 1941. 

Nan and Richard’s social life in New York City largely revolved around their work at NBC.In his article “From Broadway to Bush” for Maclean’s magazine (September 1, 1946), Richard describes himself and his wife as “two people instinctively gregarious, so dependent upon contacts with other human beings for livelihood.” Richard writes that, on their last night in New York before moving to northern Ontario in May 1, 1941, they “were partied, and had to listen to the head-shaking commiseration of our friends.”

It was not long before they were missing those friends. In a letter to his former boss Lewis H. Titterton, Manager of NBC’s Script Division, written from Sioux Lookout on May 15, 1941, Richard said, “I’m glad I left some friends, for I liked the people I was working with and wanted them for friends…it’s a warm feeling.” [Source: Wisconsin Historical Society, National Broadcasting Company Records, 1921-1976.]


Discovering Nan Dorland – Nan the Radio Star

by Joan Champ

The following is the fourth installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow on Instagram @discoveringnan.

In the mid-1930s, Nan Dorland’s radio career went into a slump. The Great Depression after the stock market crash of 1929 greatly compromised the fledgling radio industry. Capital markets dried up, consumption dropped, unemployment soared, and radio networks had trouble collecting bills from sponsors. NBC executives decided to do away with 15-minute programs for budgetary reasons. It would be cheaper to employ one entertainment unit for half an hour than two for fifteen minutes. As a result, some radio performers were added to the ranks of the unemployed. 

That is likely what happened to Nan Dorland. The only reference I have found for her between 1932 and 1936 is in the 1933 city directory for Evanston, Illinois near Chicago, listing Nan as a cashier in Vera Megowan’s Tea Room.

Battle for Stardom

Before she headed back to Chicago to look for work, 21-year-old Nan had faced stiff competition. Radio Guide reported in 1932 that thousands of girls were swarming to radio studios in Chicago and New York in a battle for stardom. “They come, long lines of them, in their eager faces both hope and fear,” the magazine observed its November 13-19 issue. “When some of the greatest stage stars in the country are washouts in front of the microphone, what chance has the comparatively inexperienced girl to crash the networks and rise to stardom?”

Nan Dorland had acting and radio experience, and she was attractive. But a pretty face meant little to broadcasters. “In Hollywood, face and form come first,” Radio Guide states. “In radio, they come last.” Producers were always looking for something new, something different.

Radio auditions were tough. “Audition after audition came and went,” writes Mary Jane Higby in her book Tune in Tomorrow (1966). “I would arrive at those studios rigid with determination, seething with the will to win. And I nearly always did achieve something, but never that glorious first place. After a year of such near misses I was becoming as neurotic as any other of my soap opera characters.”

Career Revival

With her marriage to NBC radio script writer Richard Morenus in New York City on October 15, 1936, Nan’s career picked up again. For example, she played a schoolteacher named Harriet Adair in a half-hour weekly NBC series called “Gunsmoke Law” in 1937. Apparently, Nan can be heard in the sole surviving episode held in the Library of Congress (which I am attempting to order). The main character, a young cowboy named Dave Service, attempts to flirt with Harriet by telling her, “Yore mighty easy to look at.” (Source: Radio Rides the Range, 2013.)

“During nine years of almost continuous radio work in Chicago and New York, she made regular appearances before the microphone on the programs of such well-known radio personalities as Don Ameche, Amos and Andy, Lum and Abner, Walter O’Keefe, Graham McNamee, Bob Hope and others,” the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix reported on May 20, 1943.

I would love to hear a recording of Nan’s voice as apparently it was great for radio. “Miss Dorland is favorably equipped with a pleasant vocal apparatus and an easy flow of vocabulary,” Variety magazine enthused on April 26, 1932.

Before Nan and Richard moved to northern Ontario in 1941, she made a master recording registration of her voice for a program signature at the insistence of an enthusiastic sponsor. Nan’s voice was still being heard across the airwaves long after she left New York.


Discovering Nan Dorland – Nan the Radio Star

By Joan Champ

The following is the third installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow on Instagram @discoveringnan.

The newly christened Nan Dorland (born Annette Danke) moved back to her hometown of Chicago in 1931 to pursue a career in the new medium of radio. By September of the same year, 20-year-old Nan was working on a daytime serial in the Chicago studios of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). 

The 1930s was a time of rapid growth for radio. Hundreds of commercial radio stations popped up across the USA over the course of the decade. In 1929, 12 million American households owned a radio; by 1939 this total had exploded to more than 28 million. Advertisers quickly recognized the potential of daytime serials and signed on as sponsors in droves. Designed to accommodate the daily pattern of the homemaker during the golden age of radio, there were between 360 and 390 soaps on the air during the 1930s.

The 15-minute daily serials were sentimental, with ample doses of hardship. James Thurber once wrote, “A soap opera is a kind of sandwich. Between thick slices of advertising, spread 12 minutes of dialog, add predicament, villainy, and female suffering in equal measure, throw in a dash of nobility, sprinkle with tears, season with organ music, cover with a rich announcer sauce, and serve five times a week.”

Keeping Up With Daughter

Nan’s first starring role was in 1931 on NBC Chicago’s “Keeping Up With Daughter” – one of the very first radio serials. In the radio program sponsored by Sherwin-Williams, Nan played Dora Mae, the high-school-age daughter. The story was billed as a “moving, human drama of the life of an average American family. … Joys, pleasures, sorrows, success and ambitions – all these and other feelings of a family of three in a typical American town” were portrayed in the 15-minute episodes.

NBC’s publicity machine kicked into high gear in the fall of 1931 to promote its new star Nan Dorland. Publicity photos and biographical sketches were distributed to newspapers and magazines far and wide. Newspapers and magazines were happy to print photos of the attractive, blue-eyed redhead. For example, on October 18, 1931 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote: 

“Although she admits she feels much more at home in a bathing suit or on horseback, Nan Dorland, radio drama actress, has proved she acts as well as she swims. She has a delightful smile that lingers on after she has passed, and a smile that, coming out of a ‘picture-speaker,’ would make all radio listeners television fans.” (RCA began experimenting with television in 1931.)

“Keeping Up With Daughter” only lasted one season, from September 1931 to June 1932. A review in Variety magazine provides some insight into why the show was a flop. “Mid-afternoon series of sketches are only mildly entertaining because of the nearly 100% commercialism,” Variety pronounced on April 26, 1932. Sherwin-Williams insisted that plugs for their company’s products be inserted into the story “in an none-too-deft manner,” with Nan as the daughter reading off paint colours – and their numbers – from a catalogue! This commercial angle practically ruined whatever chance to entertain the serial possessed.

The Lane Reporter

Nan’s second starring role was in “The Lane Reporter,” sponsored by Lane Cedar Chests. Launched in the spring of 1932, Nan’s new show took her to Hollywood where she guided her listeners on tours of movie stars’ homes, “observing with an uncanny eye what milady’s boudoir should contain by the way of eyelash curlers or what the last word is in chintz coverings,” Radio Retailing magazine wrote in June 1932. It was like a 1930s radio version of Robin Leach’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

Protests again arose about over-commercialization. “Miss Dorland is favorably equipped with a pleasant vocal apparatus and an easy flow of vocabulary,” a review of “The Lane Reporter” in Variety magazine observes on April 26, 1932. “but what is more important to the sponsor is the subtle interjection of the plug throughout the discourse.” While taking listeners through the homes of movie stars, Nan had to promote the sponsor’s product, selling fans on the idea that no Hollywood home was complete without a Land cedar chest.


Discovering Nan Dorland – Nan’s Childhood and Family Background

By Joan Champ

The following is the second installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow on Instagram @discoveringnan.

Nan (Annette Evangeline Danke) had the good fortune to be born into an affluent Chicago family. She was born on Halloween in 1911 at the home of her parents, Ernest and Eva Danke. Her maternal grandfather George C. Hield was a millionaire land developer. Her father, in partnership with his father-in-law, developed all of what is now the southern part of Highland Park, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of downtown Chicago. Today, Highland Park is ranked as one of the best places to live in America.

Nan’s maternal grandfather George C. Hield is one of her more remarkable family members. Born in Janesville, Wisconsin on November 15, 1852. Hield married Ann Nettie Loucks in 1874 and moved to Chicago where he made millions in real estate. The Hields moved to Florida where they bought land to grow citrus fruit. Unfortunately, their fortune was lost in the Florida real estate crash of 1925. Hield managed to stay afloat in Florida despite his losses. The Hields moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1942 when George was 90 years old. Hield made a financial comeback in Phoenix. In 1947 he built a 20-acre resort hotel in the Arcadia district of the city. He sold Echo Lodge in 1950 for $100,000 when he was 98 years old.

Nan’s 100-year-old grandfather met her son John in 1951, a year after she passed away from complications of childbirth. George Hield outlived four of his five children and some of his grandchildren, dying in Arizona at the age of 104 on May 21, 1957.

Nan’s Parents

Nan’s father Ernest Edward Danke, born in Chicago in 1886, worked as a real estate developer with his father-in-law’s firm, George C. Hield and Company. In 1926 or 1927 Nan’s father Ernest had amassed enough money to buy an orchard business in Los Angeles, California. This move may also have been precipitated by the fact that Nan’s mother was in poor health.

Nan’s mother Evangeline, born in Chicago in 1888, died at the young age of 41 on November 18, 1929 when Nan was 18 years old. Her death certificate shows that she died of a malignancy of the lymph glands which she had suffered from for about two years.

Nan’s 1-year-old son John Ernest Albrecht (Danke) being held by his step-grandmother Ida Perry on right and his 100-year-old great-grandfather George Hield on the left.

Nan’s father Ernest remarried on August 5, 1943 to the vivacious Ida Perry (1907-1987) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Well educated, Ida had worked for nine years as a legal secretary for a Chicago law firm before being sworn in as an officer candidate in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps. Perhaps Ernest Danke met Ida at the law firm in Chicago, as he still maintained a real estate office in the Windy City.

After Nan died in 1950, Ernest and Ida legally adopted her infant son, John Ernest Albrecht. John Albrecht of northern Saskatchewan visited his son John at the Danke’s 35-acre orange grove in California every year until the boy was about 10 years old. 

Nan’s School Years

Nan Dorland suffered severely from anxiety as an adult, to the point that she underwent numerous surgeries for chronic stomach ulcers. Her health problems may have had their roots in the fact that, as a child, Nan’s family moved frequently. By my count, Nan attended eight schools over the course of ten years.

The most stressful school move for Nan took place in 1925-1926 when she was sent to high school at Ward-Belmont College, an all-girls boarding school in Nashville, Tennessee. She lasted, perhaps, one year. Maybe Nan was sent to boarding school due to her mother’s ill-health. Maybe Nan had become a handful at age 14. Or maybe Nan’s parents simply wanted the best education for their only daughter. This strict southern finishing school must not have suited Nan. By Grade 10 she was back at home with her parents in Illinois attending a public high school.

Move to California

In the spring of 1927, the Danke family moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. This would have been a difficult move for 16-year-old Nan, who completed her sophomore year at Hollywood High School.

In 1928-1929, Nan was a student at one of the best drama schools in Los Angeles, the Marta Oatman School of Theatre. While Nan was attending Oatman’s school two major events occurred. Her mother passed away on November 18, 1929, and she changed her name from Annette Danke to Nan Dorland. She set her cap for an acting career in radio, heading to Chicago the following year.


Discovering Nan Dorland

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.


PAssages – February 22, 2018 – Farewell


by Joan Champ

Definition of “passage”: A way of exit or entrance, a road or path by which something passes; the action or process of passing from one place, condition, or stage to another; or, a brief portion of a written work that is relevant to a point under discussion.

Well, it hasn’t been very long, not even a full year, but it is time for me to make my exit. This will be my final PAssages column for the Prince Albert Daily Herald.

When my husband Gordon Brewerton and I moved to North Battleford in December, I thought I could continue to write this column for Thursday’s paper. Distance – even though not that far – has proved to be too much of a challenge for me, however. I miss my regular access to the back issues of the Herald, and I just don’t get to the Bill Smiley Archives, housed at Museum, as much as I would like to. Because PAssages is a history column, not an opinion piece, I need to research my stories – something that can’t always been done online.

It has been very fulfilling for me to share stories of Prince Albert’s past as reported in the pages of the Herald. I especially enjoyed writing about things that I remember from my girlhood years spent here in the city – playgrounds, snake dances, the Lion’s Band, short skirts for girls and long hair for boys – all things that brought back great memories. Being an old-fashioned historian, however, I like to know what the facts are before writing. That requires research.

Since I started writing this column back in June, I have learned a lot about Prince Albert’s history. Some stories just popped out of the back issues of the Herald – like the one about RCMP buffalo coats being made in Prince Albert (September 7), or the stories about northerners John Albrecht and Nan Dorland (September 28, January 18), two interesting people that I hope to learn more about – I see more writing in my future!

I enjoyed connecting the story of Northern Wood Preservers with the larger story of rural electrification in Saskatchewan (October 5) – something I knew a fair bit about from my days as a researcher at the Western Development Museum. I had planned to write about other Prince Albert businesses, including Burns Meat Packing Plant and Sick’s Bohemian Brewery, but further research was required.

Stories about Prince Albert people just fascinate me. For example, I loved learning more about Johnny Bower, one of the greatest goalies in hockey history. The life and career of world champion blind golfer, Phil Lederhouse, is absolutely remarkable. There are so many other PA people I would have loved to write about, but again I needed to do more research.

Thank you to the Donna Pfeil and Peter Lozinski at the Prince Albert Daily Herald for giving me this opportunity to write a weekly history column. I especially appreciated the opportunity to go through old copies of the Herald in the building’s upstairs “morgue.” Thanks also for regularly allowing me to exceed 700 words, the traditional length of a newspaper column. I did my best to edit my columns down, but I didn’t always succeed!

Thank you to the wonderful folks at the Prince Albert Historical Society – Michelle Taylor, and volunteers Jamie Benson and Ken Guedo – for opening the archives to me in my quest for information and photographs. I am pleased to know that the old issues of the Herald have been moved from the newspaper’s morgue and are now being looked after by the Bill Smiley Archives. With over 12,000 photographs, 300,000 negatives, and 12,000 documents, this archival collection is an incredible resource for the people of Prince Albert and area.

To those of you who regularly read my PAssages column, and enjoyed it, thank you. To those who read it and disagreed with some of my writing, thank you for your thoughtful civility. I love researching and I love writing. Even though I’m not particularly good at it, I hope to take another crack at writing, perhaps in the form of a blog, before too long.

Finally, thank you to my family. My husband Gordon is the reason I started writing this column in the first place. He encouraged and supported me every step of the way, and I am so grateful. My mother, Mary Perkins, was probably my most loyal reader. She read everything I wrote and phoned me right away with her supportive feedback. Thanks Mom!

PAssages – Early 1970s – Boys grow long hair


by Joan Champ

Long hair for boys was a big thing back in the early 1970s. A quick flip through my high school yearbook of 1972 shows that hardly a single boy had a visible forehead. Besides sweeping bangs, many of my male classmates had hair that flipped up slightly at their shirt collars. Some grew their hair even longer, and some had facial hair – sideburns, moustaches and beards.

It was a fashion statement, a strike against conformity, that all started with the Beatles and their “moptop” hairstyle back in the early 1960s. By the early 1970s, again influenced by the Beatles, the trend was for even longer, shaggier, hair – the “hippie” look – that eventually filtered from youth culture to ordinary working men.

Long hair back then was symbolic of a certain social/political mindset. For a guy, growing his hair long was a sign of non-conformity, of being cool, of solidarity among peers. Long hair also attracted girls. It was a time when a lot of girls, including me, wouldn’t look twice at a boy with short hair.

It was a tough time for barbers. On August 24, 1970, Prince Albert Daily Herald reporter Dennis Gruending wrote a story about the impact on the barbering trade of the “shaggy” look that was much in evidence on city streets. “This trend has certainly made it tougher on the barbers here,” said Cliff Campbell of the Avenue Hotel Barbershop. “People just don’t get their hair cut as often”. Campbell noted that although longer hair started with young people – “the wilder the better” – everyone was beginning to wear their hair longer. Peter Dyck, who ran the Clip Shop, agreed that the barbers’ business has been affected somewhat, but not to a serious degree. “People still need to get their hair cut, they just don’t get it cut as short,’ he told Gruending. Dyck observed that now, ironically, “many businessmen who, a few years ago would never have thought of it, are wearing their hair and clothes to conform to what used to be non-conformism.” Cliff Scott, who worked at the Style Barbershop and Beauty Salon, conceded that the longer styles had definitely hurt business. “We lost the teenagers four years ago,” Scott stated, “but now even businessmen, who were regular two-week customers, are coming in only after four or five weeks.”

As the three barbers reveal, attitudes changed, and soon long hair became an accepted part of everyday life. Some men even started styling their hair, which meant a switch from the barber to the salon. I remember that a couple of boys in my class got perms. Shags, afros, mullets – nothing to bat an eye over. These hair styles represented broader changes within society relating to questions of conformity, permissiveness, changing perceptions of masculinity, and the impact of consumerism and the mass media – big ideas that we are still grappling with today.

Because of negative connotations, long hair could get boys into trouble. Many conservative people and institutions considered long hair to be morally corrupt and just plain wrong. In their minds, long hair was associated with dirtiness, effeminacy, or deviancy. Young men were sometimes forced to cut their hair to get, or keep, a job. Boys with long hair were taunted on the street. “Get a haircut!” I remember friends of mine being provoked into fights at rec centre dances because of the length of their hair.

There are plenty of stories of long-haired students being kicked out of school. In Blaine Lake, for example, a ten-year-old student was expelled in 1971 for breaking the school rule regarding “proper” hair length for boys. The boys’ family challenged the school board’s ruling in Queen’s Bench Court, but, in the days before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the judge upheld the school officials’ authority. An editorial in the Herald on September 13, 1971 asked why the length of a boy’s hair was of any concern to school boards. “If current legislation allows school boards to have authority over the lives of students to such a degree that they can arbitrarily dictate how long a student’s hair shall be, then our so-called freedom is certainly in jeopardy,” the Herald wrote. “A Canadian has some rights, even if he is only ten years of age.” Rights and freedoms were not addressed in our Constitution until 1982.

During the same year that schoolboys were being persecuted for their long hair, prisoners at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert were enjoying a new liberality in hair styles. The Herald reported on September 28, 1971 that a recent directive from Canada’s Solicitor-General’s department allowed male prisoners to have haircuts that conformed “more to the norms existing in the community.” Further, during the 30 days prior to release, “an inmate may have his hair, mustache or beard grow to whatever length he prefers.”

Long hair styles for men have recently made a bit of a comeback. Forget the scraggly ponytail – the man bun and hipster styles have become mainstream. “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Although I confess that I don’t remember any man buns in the 1970s!


PAssages – April 28, 1966 – Pulp Firm to Finance Homes for Employees in Crescent Heights


by Joan Champ

In the summer of 1969, my family bought a house on Baker Place in the Crescent Heights subdivision of Prince Albert. It was an attractive, pale green, three-bedroom bungalow on a “wedge” lot backing onto Twenty-Second Street East.

My parents paid $24,000 for our new home. My father, Jim Perkins, who had originally worked for Kimberly-Clark, first in Longlac, Ontario, and later in Redding, California, had accepted a position with Prince Albert Pulpwood/Woodlands Enterprises, the company that supplied wood to the pulp mill.

Crescent Heights, established in 1960 on the southeast edge of the city, was the first subdivision in Prince Albert. That year, the City of Prince Albert entered into a major Land Assembly and Development Agreement with the Province of Saskatchewan for the development of residential housing on 675 acres that had once been the jail farm.

Crescent Heights exemplified the new neighbourhood concept of urban design that had gained wide acceptance in most Canadian cities by the late 1950s and early 1960s. Subdivisions were characterized by single-family homes on small plots of land, surrounded at close quarters by similar dwellings.

The street pattern was curvilinear, with crescents and cul-de-sacs, considered to be safer than the grid street system as it discouraged high-speed driving in residential areas. Stores and other amenities were not generally within walking distance of most homes.

The focal point of the subdivision was an elementary school with surrounding parkland and recreational facilities. In the case of Crescent Heights, it was John Diefenbaker School, opened in 1965.

The sale of lots in the new Crescent Heights subdivision started in February 1961. City council agreed to pay the provincial government $62,190 for the land, which was composed of 226 lots. The boundaries were listed as Sixth Avenue East and Twenty-Second Street at the golf course.

The second phase of Crescent Height’s development occurred in the winter of 1964-1965, with the sale of 24 lots to contractors. Most of these lots were in the Bradshaw Place area, with eight show-home sites scheduled for Fraser Place, south of Branion Drive.
Phase Three of Crescent Heights began in 1966, shortly after the announcement that a pulp mill was to be constructed on the outskirts of Prince Albert. On April 28, 1966, officials from Parsons and Whittemore, the New York-based company in charge of construction of pulp mill, came to Prince Albert to decide on the location of approximately 200 homes for mill employees. Karl F. Landegger, company president, told the Prince Albert Daily Herald that it was most important to provide suitable accommodation for skilled mill workers, many of whom were then employed in similar work elsewhere in Canada, and who would have to be enticed to work and settle in Prince Albert.

Parsons and Whittemore had no desire to create a “company town” outside the city. Rather, it was “most necessary to consider both the sociological and economic aspects of the ultimate location of these homes.”

Parsons and Whittemore negotiated with several Saskatchewan-based home construction companies regarding the cost of construction of about 200 homes for its employees, some of whom would be arriving shortly after the construction of the mill got underway that summer.

Eventually, the company organized Forest Gate Homes, Ltd. to arrange the financing for the building of 60 to 100 houses in 1966, and the balance the following year. The homes – mainly three-bedroom bungalows – would cost between $10,000 and $12,000 to build. They would be sold or rented to mill employees at “equitable rates,” Landegger said.

By April of 1967, there were 270 homes in Crescent Heights subdivision, with 50 more lots available, for a total of 330 residences. Four vacant lots at the intersection of Branion Drive and Sixth Avenue East were available for the construction of a service station. Some of the other businesses that sprang up on that location were a grocery store (the IGA), a beauty salon, a bank (CIBC), and – my favorite – the Quarter Moon, located at 615 Branion Drive It was the place to go for burgers, milkshakes, and ice cream cones. It also served as a confectionary and a post office.

My family enjoyed 28 happy years in our Crescent Heights home on Baker Place. The most unique feature of our home was the row of spruce trees that served as our backyard “fence.” When we moved in, the trees were about 3 feet tall.

By the late 1990s, they were well over 20 feet tall. In 1971, my father, a non-carpenter, built a typical 1970s, wood-paneled “rec room” in the basement. Not long afterwards, he added a sauna. There were very few evenings that he didn’t spend half an hour in that sauna where, he said, some of his best ideas came to him. My parents sold the house in 1997 and moved into a penthouse apartment.


PAssages – January 27, 1965 – Winter Festival Revived after 36 Years


by Joan Champ

The Prince Albert Winter Festival is the major event of the year in our city. The Winter Festival honours the early history of Prince Albert’s days as a fur trading post and centre of a thriving logging industry. As in those days, lumberjacks, trappers, and fur traders rub shoulders in the city during the festival. The sled dog race is perhaps the most important event of all.

I remember the days when many of the events were held on a mile-long site on the ice of the North Saskatchewan River near downtown. The Boy Scouts and soldiers from the North Saskatchewan Regiment (B Company) set up camps on the river ice. As a member of the PA Lions Band during the early 1970s, I worked a shift or two in the band’s fundraising concession on the river, flipping burgers and serving hot chocolate. The ice under our feet would melt as the hours went by, but nobody seemed too worried about breaking through.

The Prince Albert Winter Festival was originally held in the 1920s, but ended in 1929. It was revived in 1965 after almost 40 years. The kick-off event that revival year was the Trappers’ Party, part of the annual trappers’ convention in the city. The program for the Trappers’ Party that first year included competitions in wildlife calls (wolf, lynx, goose, and moose), pelt preparation, jigging, and fish-eating. This eventually became the King Trapper Contest which has always been popular with visitors to the Winter Festival. This event gives spectators a glimpse into some of the daily challenges faced by trappers on their northern traplines. The competitions, including the power saw contest, the log chopping contest, the canoe portage race, and the flour-packing contest (in which the trappers carry bags of flour on their backs weighing up to 1,000 pounds), were gruelling tests of strength, stamina and skill.

Other Winter Festival events over the years have included snowmobile races, variety shows, hockey games, parades, dances, cabarets, fashion shows, the list goes on and on. There was also the Winter Festival Queen pageant.

When the Festival was revived in 1965, the organizing committee had a problem. There was no reigning Queen to crown the winner of the pageant. This problem was solved when the committee realized there was “royalty” almost at Prince Albert’s doorstep. Irene Seeseequasis of Duck Lake had been named Indian Princess of Canada that year. Miss Seeseequasis made arrangements with her employers, the Indian Agency in Duck Lake, to be in the city for a major part of the festival, missing only a few days due to her work. The Prince Albert Daily Herald wrote that it was a “veritable touch of genius” to secure the services of Irene Seeseequis as the Honourary Queen of the Winter Festival. “The personable (and highly photogenic) Duck Lake girl literally ‘threw’ herself into her demanding task and, in the process, made innumerable friends,” an editorial stated. “Acting as Queen of the Festival was not a ‘soft touch’ for Miss Seeseequasis. On several occasions, she performed her normal day’s duties with the Indian Agency in Duck Lake and then hopped on a bus or train for the trip to the city for appearances at one place or another in the evening. In short, Miss Irene Seeseequasis was a ‘real queen’ and the Festival gained a great deal from her participation.” Irene Seeseequasis went on to become President of the Indian Women of Saskatchewan in 1971. She received her Masters in Social Work and taught at the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology. She was married to actor Gordon Tootoosis of the Poundmaker Cree First Nation in Saskatchewan.

In 1972, the city’s police chief, Reg Brooman, urged the Winter Festival Society to move the site from its traditional place on the North Saskatchewan River to the exhibition grounds. “The present site, while it may be fine for sentimental reasons, is impractical when it comes to efficient control,” the police chief said. “The area is much too large for the show we have been having, and the problem of traffic control to and from the site is pure hell.” In addition, Brooman cited safety concerns. There were three deep and swift channels running beneath the festival site, “and if anything happened it would eliminate the winter festival forevermore,” he said.

The main disadvantage of holding the annual event on the river ice was, of course, uncertain weather and ice conditions. There was very little protection from frigid winds, so it times it could be pretty darn cold out there. It was also a costly location and thus contributed to the high costs of the festival. In 1971, ice preparation costs alone ate up $4,000 of the society’s $32,700 budget.
The Prince Albert Winter Festival celebrates its 54th year in 2018. The popular events like the King Trapper competition and the sled dog races are on the program along with some newer events like a comedy show and a rock show. There is no longer a Winter Festival Queen pageant.


PAssages – April 1968 – John Albrecht reunites with sister after 39 years


by Joan Champ

Imagine losing touch with your siblings due to war, and never seeing them again for decades. You never know what happened to them – as far as you know, they are dead. There’s no way to find out, especially when you live the isolated life of a trapper in northern Saskatchewan.

This is what happened to John Albrecht, a man I wrote about in an earlier, two-part column (September 21 and 28, 2017 – “A Reporter’s Encounter with Nan Dorland, Prospector”). Circumstances of two world wars separated John from his family for decades, yet the family ties remained strong – strong enough to miraculously bring them back together after almost 40 years of unimaginable challenges. This reunion was brought about in the mid-1960s thanks to the efforts of a Prince Albert resident, S. E. (Bob) Lee, and the German embassy in Toronto.

Bob Lee brought this incredible story to the attention of the Prince Albert Daily Herald back in 1968. An account of John Albrecht’s reunion with his sister, Mrs. Anna Gumboldt (or Gumpoldt), was published on April 16, along with a photograph of the two siblings, Anna’s daughter Margarete, and Bob Lee. The newspaper devoted almost a full page to the stories of the brother’s and sister’s lives. Both siblings experienced adventure and adversity, yet their experiences could not have been more different.

According to Dr. Klaus Lehnert-Thiel’s account of John’s life, published in The Northerner at the time of John’s death in 1991, the Albrecht children led a rather idyllic life on the shore of the Baltic Sea where their father ran the lighthouse. “There, … John spent his youth in an unspoiled environment of unmatched beauty,” Lehnert-Thiel writes. “Fishing, hunting, trapping, skating and sailing were activities which the young John Albrecht enjoyed from a very young age.” The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 changed everything.

At the beginning of the war, the Imperial Russian army invaded Albrecht’s homeland of East Prussia. Sixteen-year-old John volunteered for the German army. For the next two years he served as a machine gunner until he was captured by the British in 1917. He spent three years in a British prisoner-of-war camp. After his release in 1920, he returned to his home country, now annexed by Lithuania. Continuing struggles in the Baltic region led John to emigrate to Canada in 1929. He waved goodbye to his sisters and brother on the pier at Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland), not sure he would ever see them again.

Albrecht arrived in Saskatchewan during the Great Depression. After two years of working on farms, Albrecht headed north to Wollaston Lake where he trapped for the next seven years. Albrecht moved to Stony Rapids in 1939 and trapped from a base on the Saskatchewan-Northwest Territories boundary. In 1948, together with his partner, Albrecht found the Nisto Uranium Mine on the north shore of Black Lake. The following year he “struck it rich” again when he married US radio star, Nan Dorland. Nan died in 1950 a few days after giving birth to their son.

John’s sister Anna escaped death several times during the Second World War. She and her four daughters endured 13 years in a Russian forced labor camp. Anna told the Herald reporter that her children suffered the most. Starvation was always with them. Her daughter Margarete was hit in the head by a Russian rifle butt, leaving her with a permanent scar. Her daughter Sigrid lost some of her toes to frostbite. With the children of other families in the camp dying one after another, Anna refused to give up. “I’d steal, beg and do almost anything to get something for the children to eat,” she recalled. “If I had been caught, it would probably have been Siberia.” Anna returned home from the fields one evening to discover that her mother and two of her daughters, 4-year-old Margarete and 5-year-old Bridget had been taken away on a forced march to Poland. That night, Anna and her two remaining daughters slipped away from the camp and began what became a six-month search. When she found them, her mother had died and neither of her daughters could walk. Carrying the young girls on their backs, Anna and her older daughters travelled back to the family home in Lithuania. By the time they got home, two of the girls required stomach surgery due to the horrors they had endured.

Fast forward to 1968, when Anna Gumboldt, along with her daughter Margarete, reunited with her brother, John Albrecht in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. “It’s a miracle we ever found John,” Anna said to the Herald reporter. “We all thought he had died in the wilderness of northern Saskatchewan where we got our last letters from him.”  “Yes, you thought I was dead,” John replied, “and I thought you were all dead in the war. Now we find that almost the whole family is still living.” Margarete eventually moved to Canada to live with her uncle, first in LaRonge, then in Langley, BC, where Albrecht died in 1991 at age 93.

War divides and separates families and tests familial bonds. But the ties of a family transcend war and through trying times remain intact no matter the challenges endured.


PAssages – October 17, 1918 – Spanish Flu epidemic reaches Prince Albert


by Joan Champ

One hundred years ago this fall, as the First World War raged in Europe, the deadliest infectious disease in recorded history, the Spanish flu – killed between 50 and 100 million people worldwide. Between 1918 and 1920, at least 50,000 Canadians died from the disease, more than all the battlefield deaths combined.

The flu epidemic reached Saskatchewan on October 1, 1918 when infected soldiers disembarked from troop trains in Regina. From there, the flu spread rapidly throughout the province. On October 17, the first influenza case was reported in Prince Albert. Five days later, there were 58 new cases.

The Spanish flu, named after the country where it was first detected, struck with amazing speed. Victims often died within 24 hours. The greatest number of deaths from the epidemic occurred in young adults between the ages of 20 and 40. Because influenza was more likely to kill parents than children, there was a sharp rise in the number of orphans in the province.

Like other Saskatchewan cities and towns, Prince Albert responded to the crisis by closing schools and placing a ban on public gatherings to try to control the contagion.

Movie theatres, dance halls, billiard rooms, the library, and other public places were closed. Restaurants, hotels and drug stores were allowed to stay open. October 20, 1918 was the first “churchless Sunday” in the history of the city; several more followed.

November was the worst month, with over 2,500 deaths province-wide. On the 6th, the Daily Herald reported that Prince Albert had 295 cases since influenza outbreak; the total number of deaths was 26.

Some deplorable cases were reported, including the members of a family living in a shack in the east end of the city. “Both parents were in bed suffering from influenza and there were three children under three years of age which were in such a condition of neglect and filth that they became a menace to the health of themselves and others,” the Herald stated.

“There was no one to help this family and it was impossible to get them into any institution.” The hospitals were full and had to send patients away.

Stories like this revealed a critical need for improved health care. An Emergency hospital was set up at the collegiate (later PACI). By November 5, there were 25 flu patients being cared for in the makeshift hospital by volunteers, including members of the school’s staff. A public health bureau, headed by Dr. P. D. Tyerman, was set up at city hall on November 5th to deal with the epidemic.

The bureau made constant calls for volunteers. Women were asked to help as caregivers and nurses. Men who owned cars were asked to volunteer as chauffeurs to homes where help was needed. Car owners were also asked to take hospital nurses out for half-hour drives “so that they may get the benefit of fresh air.”

“It seems to be breaking out in the most unexpected places,” the Herald observed. Influenza did not discriminate – it attacked rich and poor, rural and urban, alike. Even Prince Albert’s medical health officer, Dr. McMillan, was not immune. His wife and small daughter both caught the flu, and the family’s maid, Miss S. Senum, was taken ill with a serious attack.

On November 4, she was taken to the Emergency hospital at the collegiate where she died the next day.

Rural Saskatchewan was hit particularly hard by the flu epidemic. Eva Hanson remembers caring for sick neighbours on their farm near Domremy. Each day, she travelled a mile and a half on a pair of home-made skis, carrying chicken or beef broth to feed the family with eight children.

She brought home the family’s soiled clothing and diapers and hand-washed them every day. Eva recalls that her husband was angry with her for helping this family, because he was afraid she would bring home germs that would infect their 8-month-old son.
In vain attempts to keep the epidemic at bay, many small towns and villages in Saskatchewan imposed quarantines against outsiders. For example, on November 5, the village of Shellbrook announced that it was under quarantine. “The railroad authorities have been advised not to sell any tickets for Shellbrook,” the Herald reported.

“Any person from an infected area entering the town will not only be prosecuted but quarantined for three days.” Citizen patrols monitored the train stations and patrolled the roads to prevent travel. Dr. M. M. Seymour, provincial medical health officer, soon declared this practice illegal. But, as both the railways and the police were understaffed due to outbreaks of influenza, local quarantines continued.

During the first three months of the epidemic, 3,906 Saskatchewan people died, with the number of deaths peaking in mid-November 1918 – a result of people coming together for victory celebrations on Armistice Day. By the end of 1918, 50 citizens of Prince Albert had died from the disease. The epidemic continued to May 1919 and then gradually subsided. By 1920, it was calculated that a total of 5,018 people had died in the province because the terrible Spanish Flu.

Scientists still don’t know why the flu epidemic of 1918 was so deadly. Milder strains of the bug, an H1N1 virus, are still around today.

Get your flu shot.

Thanks to the Bill Smiley Archives for its assistance in the preparation of this column.