Memorable Manitobans: Paul Henrik Thorbjorn Thorlakson (1895-1989)
Born at Park River, North Dakota in 1895, one of six children of Neils Steingrimur Thorlaksson and Erica Kristofa Rynning (?-?), he grew up at Selkirk. In 1914, he enrolled in the Manitoba Medical College, volunteering for military service in 1916. He graduated from the College in 1917 and practiced at Shoal Lake. He then undertook postgraduate studies in surgery at London. In partnership with Neil J. Maclean, he formed the Maclean-Thorlakson Clinic (later renamed the Winnipeg Clinic in 1938) and, in the 1940s, was organizer of the corporation that promoted the Manitoba Medical Centre, now the Health Sciences Centre.
He served as President of several organizations, including the National Cancer Institute of Canada, the Canadian Association of Clinical Surgeons (Western Division), the Canadian Conference on Education (Manitoba Division), the Canadian Association of Medical Clinics, the International Congress of Group Medicine, and the Manitoba Institute for the Advancement of Medical Education.
In 1920, he married Gladys Maree Henry (1896-1987) and they had three children: twin sons T. Kenneth “Ken” Thorlakson and Robert Henry Thorlakson, and daughter Tannis Thorlakson (wife of George T. Richardson). He was an Honorary Life Member of the Manitoba Club.
He was also active in Icelandic affairs, and served three terms as Chancellor of the University of Winnipeg, from 1969 to 1978. He was named to the Order of the Falcon by the Icelandic government (1951), received the Manitoba Centennial Medal from the Manitoba Historical Society (1970) and a Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal (1977). He was given honorary doctorates by the University of Manitoba (1952), Brandon University (1970), and University of Winnipeg (1979). In 1964 he was given a Manitoba Golden Boy Award for meritorious community service. He was inducted as a Companion in the Order of Canada (1971), Manitoba Order of the Buffalo Hunt (1980), and the Winnipeg Citizens Hall of Fame (1990).
He died at Winnipeg on 19 October 1989. His papers are held at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections. A bronze bust and a commemorative plaque are displayed in the Thorlakson Building at the Health Sciences Centre.
“Manitoba University Alumni activities,” Winnipeg Free Press, 11 April 1936, page 6.
“Local medical community mourns respected pioneer,” Winnipeg Free Press, 21 October 1989, page 3.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
We thank Dr. Ken Thorlakson, Trish Loewen, and Glen Toews for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 20 February 2023