Born in Park River, North Dakota, USA the son of an Icelandic father and Norwegian mother, but grew up in Canada in Selkirk, Manitoba. During World War I he was a medical sergeant. After the war he received his medical degree from the University of Manitoba in 1919. He co-founded the Maclean-Thorlakson clinic, renamed the Winnipeg Clinic in 1938, one of the earliest multi-speciality private group practice clinics in Canada. He was surgeon-in-chief at the Winnipeg General Hospital and professor of surgery at the University of Manitoba. In 1969 he was elected Chancellor of the University of Winnipeg which he held for nine years.