Memorable Manitobans: Joseph Thorarinn Thorson (1889-1978)
Born at Winnipeg on 15 March 1889, son of Stefan Thorarinssson (Thorson) and Sigridur Thorarinsdottir, who came to Canada from Iceland in 1887, brother of Charles Gustav Thorson, he was educated at Carlton School, Winnipeg Collegiate Institute, Manitoba College (BA, LLB), and New College Oxford (BA). He graduated in Classics (University of Manitoba Silver Medalist) in 1910, and was appointed a Rhodes Scholar for Manitoba that year. He attended Oxford University from 1910 to 1913, graduated in Jurisprudence in 1912. He was called to the Bar of Middle Temple (London) in 1913 and to the Manitoba Bar in 1913. He practised law in Winnipeg with the firm of McFaden and Thorson from 1913 to 1916 then with Campbell, Pitblado and Company from 1916 to 1919, and was made a King’s Counsel (1930).
On 30 December 1916, he married Alleen Blanche Scarth (1891-1982), daughter of William F. Scarth, with whom he had three children: Ellen Thorson (wife of ? Lahey), Donald Scarth Thorson (1925-1989), and Gail Thorson (wife of ? Low). During the First World War, he served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a Captain with the 223rd Battalion (Scandinavian). He was attached to Third Army Headquarters in France from November 1917 to January 1919, and the Commanding Officer of No. 4 Prisoners of War Company in France from 1919 to 1921.
After the war, he practised law in Winnipeg from 1927 to 1941. He served as a Professor with the Manitoba Law School from 1919 to 1941, and its Dean from 1921 to 1926. He was elected to the House of Commons for Winnipeg South Centre in 1926, defeated in 1930, re-elected for Selkirk in 1935 and 1940. He was a Member of the Privy Council (1941), Minister of National War Service (1941-1942), and President of the Exchequer Court of Canada (1942-1964). He was appointed Judge of the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada in 1959, and President of the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada in 1964. He was given honorary doctorates by the University of Manitoba (1958) and University of Winnipeg (1970).
He died at Ottawa, Ontario on 5 July 1978.
Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Canadian Publicity Company, 1925.
“11 Manitoba barristers named K.C.’s,” Winnipeg Tribune, 1 January 1930, page 1.
The Canadian Directory of Parliament, 1867-1967, edited by J. K. Johnson, Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa [Library and Archives Canada], 1968.
“U of W selects four for honorary degrees,” Winnipeg Tribune, 1 May 1970.
“Joseph T. Thorson,” Winnipeg Free Press, 12 July 1978, page 55.
Obituary [Alleen Scarth Thorson], Winnipeg Free Press, 2 March 1982, page 51.
We thank Nelson Gerrard and Michael Hennessy for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 19 December 2021