Discovering Nan Dorland:
By Joan Champ - [email protected]
The following is the eighteenth and final installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who spent six years on what is now Winoga Island on Abram Lake during the 1940s. Nan later struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow at www.nandorland.blogsot.com or on Instagram @discoveringnan.
Before I wrap up Nan Dorland’s story, a few final words about her second husband. John Albrecht survived Nan by four decades. After her death in September 1950, John lived between Stony Rapids and his cabin at Selwyn Lake throughout the 1950s, tending to his trap lines and doing some prospecting.
In the early 1960s, John settled in La Ronge, Saskatchewan. According to his friend Bob Lee, the belongings in his small home included Nan’s scrapbook from her radio days, and a few yellowed magazines in which Nan’s articles appeared, and a large, framed black and white portrait of Nan that hung on the north wall of the house. I would love to see all these items but so far, my requests to family members who may now possess them have been unsuccessful.
Circumstances of the Second World War had separated John from his siblings for decades, yet the family ties remained strong – strong enough to miraculously bring them back together after years of unimaginable challenges. In 1968, John reunited with his sister Anna Gumboldt (or Gumbolt) and her daughter Margaret in Prince Albert. “It’s a miracle we ever found John,” Anna told the Prince Albert Daily Herald. “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.”
Margaret eventually moved to Canada to live with her uncle, first in La Ronge, and later in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. John moved to Maple Ridge in 1977 to live with his niece and passed away there in 1991 at the age of 93. To date, Margaret has not responded to my requests for an interview.
Why Discover Nan Dorland?
Nan Dorland was famous as an NBC radio star for a few years during the 1930s, then faded into the Canadian north and obscurity. Nevertheless, I think her life was unusual and intriguing, so even though 70 years have passed since her death I was, and still am, determined to discover her life story.
This column has revealed a few things about Nan Dorland – the actress-turned-writer-turned-prospector from New York City. We learned how she embraced life in northern Canada – first on Winoga Island near Sioux Lookout, and later in Saskatchewan. We learned that her first husband Richard Morenus misrepresented his six years on Winoga Island in his book, Crazy White Man (1952), writing falsely that he was there alone. And we learned that Nan’s short, second marriage to Saskatchewan prospector John Albrecht produced a son who lived until 2015. But I am still trying to find the answers to many other questions. For example:
- Where is Nan’s writing? Nan published two articles in MacLean’s magazine during the 1940s which I have located. Any of her other writings have disappeared or remain to be uncovered.
- Who was “Joe,” the man who accompanied Nan on her canoe expedition north of Sioux Lookout during the summer of 1948? I asked 94-year-old Dorothy Maskerine if she knew who Joe was. “Oh, everyone knew Joe,” she replied in our phone conversation in June 2021. “He just kind of turned up in Sioux Lookout and hung out at the Hudson’s Bay Company store with his dog.”
- Where did Nan go after she left Sioux Lookout in 1948? I have not yet been able to determine her whereabouts from August of 1947 until she turned up in northern Saskatchewan in the autumn of 1948. Dorothy Maskerine told me over the phone that she heard Nan went to Edmonton, Alberta, possibly with the man named Joe. Another source, Bob Lee, wrote that Nan had gone to Squamish, BC.
With the passing of time, so much of Nan’s life story has gone missing. My journey in writing her 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 Tim Brody, editor of The Sioux Lookout Bulletin, for publishing this column. I hope readers found Discovering Nan Dorland as fascinating as I do. I also hope that by publishing Nan’s story, more information about her will come to light. If you have any photos or documents about Nan or Richard Morenus that you are willing to share, please contact me at: [email protected]
Special thanks to Dick MacKenzie for his assistance in the preparation of these columns; to 94-year-old Dorothy Maskerine of Dryden, ON, for sharing her memories of Nan with me; and to Kim Clark and Richard Mansfield, owners of Winoga Lodge, for sending me a box of photographs containing hundreds of photos of Nan’s husband, Richard Morenus.