PAssages – March 20, 1950: Part Two – A Reporter’s Encounter with Nan Dorland, Prospector

Nan Dorland, radio actress in New York City, 1930s.

by Joan Champ

Part Two:

In “Part One” last week, I introduced Nan Dorland, the only active woman prospector in Saskatchewan in 1950. An actress turned writer turned prospector from New York City via northern Ontario, Nan – or “Mrs. Morenus” – was interviewed by the Prince Albert Daily Herald on March 20, 1950. She was passing through Prince Albert with her partner, John Albrecht, a long-time Saskatchewan trapper and prospector. The twosome 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. Unbeknownst to the reporter, Nan was four months pregnant.

In the summer of 1948, Nan Dorland Morenus arrived in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, to take a prospector’s course. Floyd Glass, a Prince Albert pilot, flew Nan and a man – who could have been her husband, Richard Morenus – up to an area west of Stony Rapids. Glass provides an account of Nan’s time in Saskatchewan in “A Northern Romance,” his contribution to the book, Gold and Other Stories (1986). He recalls that when he flew in a few months later to see if the couple was ready to come out, the man, likely Morenus, ran down to the plane. “He was going out,” Glass recounts. “He said as far as he was concerned he didn’t know what she was going to do, but he thought she was staying.” When Glass went up to talk to Nan, he discovered that “there was no way she was going out. She was up there to find a uranium mine. That’s all there was to it.”

(Nan and Richard Morenus must have divorced shortly after that. Genealogical records show that Richard married for the fifth time on October 1, 1948 in Minnesota.)

Nan gave Glass some money to pick up a dog team and sleigh for her. He brought her six dogs as well as a net so she could catch fish for the dogs. He thought Nan didn’t know what she was in for, but “she thought everything was fine.”

The first week of December 1948, Nan arrived by dog team at Stony Rapids. It was there, later that winter, that she met 50-year-old John Albrecht. The Herald reporter asserts that uranium “was the cause of the Morenus-Albrecht partnership.” Nan wanted to stake claims in the same area that Albrecht first found uranium earlier that year. Floyd Glass flew the two of them up to a lake on the border of the Northwest Territories and was told to come back in the spring.

Nan and John spent just over a year together in northern Saskatchewan. Nan told the Herald she “finds Northern Saskatchewan a ‘wonderful place’ and her chosen work ‘just an enormous amount of fun’.” In response to the reporter’s question about who did the housework, Albrecht replied tersely, “Whoever gets back first gets supper ready.”

Nan had brought her typewriter along, planning to write about prospecting in the north. Glass recalls that she had, indeed sold a couple of stories. The few times he dropped in on Nan and John’s camp, she gave him some magazine articles to take down in the mail. (I haven’t yet located any stories published by Nan Dorland or Nan Morenus or Nan Albrecht since her 1947 article in Maclean’s.)

Nan and John travelled to Toronto in March 1950, shortly after Nan discovered she was pregnant. They were married there on April 29, 1950. Nan gave birth to their son, John Ernest Albrecht, on August 18, 1950, in Stouffville, just north of Toronto. Seventeen days later, on September 3rd, Nan died in Toronto from complications due to childbirth. She was 38 years old.

John Albrecht, no doubt filled with grief, returned to northern Saskatchewan where he continued trapping and prospecting. He moved to Vancouver in 1978, where he died in 1991 at age 93. John and Nan’s son was subsequently raised by Nan’s Danke relatives in California; he died there in December 2015.

NOTE: Richard Morenus (1894-1968) was a fraud. After Nan’s death, Richard published his one and only book, Crazy White Man, in 1952. In this book, he describes himself as a New York businessman who took to the northern Ontario bush for six years – on his own – to shed his ulcers. Nan is left completely out of the story. Morenus subsequently had many speaking engagements about his bush adventures. A New York Times book review states, “Respect for Mr. Morenus’ courage and hardihood grows with every page we read.” Morenus’ article, “From Broadway to the Bush,” in Maclean’s, September 1, 1946, provides a more truthful version of the story. Nan was an equal partner – possibly more – in their shared wilderness experience. For example, when Richard asked Nan if she minded all the hard work, he quotes her as saying, “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 is in the oven. We’re having it for supper, and can you get that on 6th Avenue?” He gushes, “What a gal!”

Nan and Richard Morenus in northern Ontario, 1946.