William Thorsell was born in Camrose, Alberta, and raised in Edmonton. He attended the University of Alberta where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Arts degree in History. Mr. Thorsell also has a Master of Public and International Affairs degree in Economic Policy from Princeton University.
Thorsell's interest in international affairs resulted in his involvement with Expo '67 in Montreal. He later travelled to Japan for Expo '70, where he served as the head of protocol for the Government of Canada. Following Expo '70, he commenced his studies at Princeton University.
Upon completion of his degree, Thorsell returned to Edmonton and began work with a small film production company he had helped establish in the 1960s. He also assumed the position of Executive Officer of the University of Alberta Senate. He remained with the Senate until 1974, when at the request of Princeton University, he returned to review the graduate program at the Woodrow Wilson School.
In 1975, Thorsell began his editorial career with The Edmonton Journal. The following year he joined the Editorial Board of The Globe and Mail in Toronto. In 1977, he returned to the Edmonton Journal as Associate Editor. Thorsell was responsible for the Journal's editorial pages until 1984, when he returned to The Globe and Mail's editorial board. He has covered national affairs, constitutional debates and international trade, as well as writing book reviews for The Globe and Mail's Report on Business Magazine.
Thorsell was appointed Editor-in-Chief of the Globe and Mail in January, 1989. He became Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Roayl Ontario Museum in August, 2000.