When Bernt Thorpe built the family home in Calgary’s Eau Claire district in 1886, it’s highly unlikely he ever entertained the thought that 126 later, his home would rest in Heritage Park Historical Village visited by thousands every year.
“The Thorpe house was chosen to represent the lifestyle of a moderately well off early Calgary family,” said Barb Munro, communications specialist, Heritage Park Historical Village. “It’s important to have a building like the Thorpe house on display at Heritage park to provide a glimpse into our past. It allows guests to see how some families lived in cities like Calgary 100 years ago.“
Bernt and Mathea Thorpe were both born in Fredrikstad, Norway. Bernt travelled to North America in 1880 and took a job in Eau Claire, Wisconsin working for John Prince at Porter’s Lumber Company and was joined by Mathea and their infant daughter shortly afterwards.
In 1886, Bernt travelled to Calgary by train, part of a group organized by lumberman I.K Kerr who transported a complete lumber mill to Calgary dubbed Eau Claire Lumber. A millwright with the company, Bernt built his now family of five a small home at 508 Second Avenue SW. The home would include expansions over the years as Bernt and Mathea had a total of eight children and also raised three grandchildren.
“The Thorpe house was a cheerful place where all the children of the neighbourhood loved to visit,” said Munro. “Mathea Thorpe loved to bake and to entertain guests. The kitchen of the Thorpe house is large and friendly, with a beautiful dining room off it, which would have been used to entertain.
“The warm and inviting living room has many musical instruments on display and quite often Heritage Park’s interpreters will be in the room playing the piano, to represent how the house would have been lively and full of music.”
In 1889, the Thorpe’s and the rest of Calgary were supplied with electricity thanks to the plant at the mill will plumbing and sewage following a few years later in 1904. The home was insulated with brick cement, creating a warm, sturdy structure and was heated by a coal furnace until gas became available.
Bernt passed away in 1931 and Mathea in 1940, and the home was inherited by their second youngest, Inez Marie Lillian Jacques (Lillian), who lived in it until 1969 when she was informed she would have to move for development of the area.
“Instead of seeing the house demolished, she donated it to Heritage Park along with $17,000 to pay for its removal and restoration,” said Munro.
After some restoration, the Thorpe House exhibit opened to the public at the park in 1971 where it still stands today.
Will you be touring any of Calgary’s century home during Historic Calgary Week July 27th-August 6th?