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Memorable Manitobans: William Thornburn (1871-1944)


Born at Wiarton, Ontario on 5 March 1871, son of John Thornburn and Lilias Bonnar, as a child he lived with his uncle, Dr. Hector Bonnar. He taught school at Bairds Corners, north of Walkerton, Ontario for two years, then attended Port Elgin High School followed by Osgoode Hall at Toronto. He was called to the Ontario Bar in 1898.

During the Klondike Gold Rush, he went to the Yukon with his uncle, Dr. Hector Bonnar, who was the first physician for the Royal North West Mounted Police. The two men mined and Thornburn practiced law at Dawson City. He eventually returned to Winnipeg where formed a law partnership with his uncle, R. A. Bonnar, and W. H. Trueman.

In 1903, he married Nora Geraldine Read, of Michigan and New York, at Dawson City, Yukon. They had six children: Helen (b 1904, wife of Mr. Wilson), Lilias (b 1905, wife of Dr. H. T. J. Nylander), Margaret (b 1908, wife of H. B. Glauser), Robert Thornburn (b 1914), William Read Thornburn, and one other son. He was a member of the United Church, Arctic Brotherhood, Masons, Odd Fellow, Canadian Club and Rotary Club. At his summer home at Selkirk he served as town councillor and president of the Hospital Board. He enjoyed building homes as a hobby, having constructed 334 Wellington Crescent and 401 Stradbrook Avenue.

He left Winnipeg in 1935, going first to Port Elgin, Ontario and later to new Toronto where he practiced law. Later he took up practice at Wiarton, Ontario where he was solicitor for the town and surrounding municipalities up to the time of his death.

He died at Wiarton, Ontario on 24 May 1944 and was buried in Port Elgin, Ontario.


“W. Thornburn, barrister, dies”, Winnipeg Tribune, 25 May 1944. [Manitoba Legislative Library, Biographical Scrapbook B9, page 152]

Page revised: 23 December 2009

Memorable Manitobans

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