The Family of Bernt and Mathea Thorpe

From the files of Don Jacques of Calgary, grandson of Bernt and Mathea Thorpe

Bernt M. Thorpe
Bernt Thorpe

Bernt Thorpe (born October 30, 1855, Fredrikstad, Norway, died October 12 1931, Calgary, Alberta) married November 12, 1876, Fredrikstad, Norway to Mathea (nee Ollsen) Thorpe (born October 10, 1854, Fredrikstad, Norway, died June 3 1940 Calgary, Alberta).

Mathea Thorpe
Mathea Thorpe

Bernt Thorpe arrived in New York from Fredrikstad, Norway in May of 1880, and went to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, the lumber centre of Midwestern United States, to work for John Prince at the Porter's Lumber Company.

Mathea Thorpe arrived in New York with infant Bessie in July 1880, and immediately went to Eau Claire, Wisconsin to join her husband, Bernt. Sons, Jack and Alfred, were born in Wisconsin.

Bernt travelled by train to Western Canada, arriving in Calgary in 1886. He was part of a group which was organized in Wisconsin by I.K. Kerr, a wealthy eastern lumberman who had explored the mountains west of Calgary three years before. Having obtained timber rights to large tracts of forest on Devil's Head Mountain, he transported a complete lumber mill and the necessary personnel by train to Calgary, a village of 1,200 persons. Bernt Thorpe was part of the group that came to Calgary. Mathea and three children (Bessie, Jack and Alfred), followed in 1887.

Bernt, a Millwright at Eau Claire Lumber, built a small house in Calgary in 1886, at 508 Second Avenue SW (in the Eau Claire district). The home was expanded several times as the number of children grew to three girls and five boys.

Canadian Citizenship papers were taken out by Bernt and Mathea on March 5, 1891, at Calgary, in the district of Alberta of North West Territories. Bernt was proud of his Norwegian background, but was equally proud of his and Mathea's newly chosen country. He chose to become a "Total" Canadian, and refused to isolate himself as a foreigner, speaking only in his native tongue. He answered his Norwegian-speaking friends in English, and thus encouraged them to also become fluent in the language of their new country.

Bernt and Mathea chose Central Methodist Church for their Calgary Church for themselves and their children, because the Lutheran Church of Calgary, in the early days, had its services only in Norwegian. However, Bernt and Mathea were always interested in the status of this early Lutheran Church, and quietly and generously contributed to it.

The following children, Frank, Harry, Myrtle, Lillian and Roy were born in Calgary at the Thorpe House -- 508 2nd Avenue SW. The home was built in 1886 and was donated to Heritage Park by Lillian Jacques (daughter of Bernt and Mathea Thorpe) in the 1970s. The home was never outside the family. When the house was moved to Heritage Park just east of The Wainright Hotel, It was found to be insulated throughout with brick cement, which made for a sturdy, cozy home. In 1889 electricity was supplied to the town by the plant at the mill, but plumbing and sewage was not available until 1904. The home was heated by a coal furnace and the cooking done on a coal range for many years until gas became available.

In addition to their eight children, Bernt and Mathea Thorpe raised three grandchildren after the grandchildren's parents died, at aged 38 and 34 years. The Thorpe House in Calgary was a busy place.

The family was very rnusical and loved to keep open house for friends and visiting performers of The Orpheum and Pantages circuits. The coffee pot was always on, and the sound of music enveloped the home.