Signe Spokkeli Hills
Signe Spokkeli Hills was born January 20, 1886 on a farm near Moorhead, Minnesota; the only child of Norwegian settlers, John and Juri Spokkeli. The family moved to the Camrose area in 1895 when Signe was 9 years old and settled onto a homestead. As a child Signe fondly remembers the wild fruit that grew abundantly on the prairie and her positive pioneer neighbors, full of optimism and plans.
Before a school was built in the area Signe and neighboring children attended lessons held by Mr. Taylor in his home. Later Signe attended the Stoney Creek schoolhouse, built about 5 miles south of what would later become downtown Camrose. As more people settled the area this school was replaced by a larger building and renamed New Salem School. During the years of 1902 and 1903 Signe boarded in Edmonton to attend high school. To get to her boarding residence, Signe travelled to Wetaskiwin by horse, to South Edmonton by train and from there she would have to cross the North Saskatchewan River by ferry. After completing high school, she went to Regina to attend the Normal School, earning her interim teachers certificate in 3 months.
At age nineteen, Signe’s first teaching assignment was just north of Camrose at Lake Demay. She also taught at New Salem School and the Sifton rural school.
In 1905 Signe was hired to teach at the first school in Camrose, held in a small wooden building on Main Street; she had 19 students. Signe’s teaching career unfortunately came to an end in 1907 when she married Irving Hills. Apparently at the time married woman could not hold a teaching position.
Irving Hills was also an acclaimed pioneer of the Camrose community. He owned of the first drug store in Camrose, operating it until his death in 1951. Together he and Signe had 2 children, Myrtle and John.
When Signe moved to this area in 1895, the land where Camrose would develop was owned by Ole Brakken. It was wide open prairie with a few scattered homesteads and plenty of wild fruit. Signe died in August 1988 at the age of 102 years, a Camrose resident for those many years. She is remembered and honored by the 1912 Founders Days Committee as the first Camrose School teacher, but is also one of our longest living pioneers.
Almer Julian Jorgensen Ofrim
Almer Ofrim was born in Loken, Norway and moved to Camrose in 1906 where he immediately joined a work crew building the Langbell Hotel (later called the Heather Brae Hotel) for Jacob Langbell. He also worked in Michael Haugen’s Blacksmith shop and created for himself a reputation as a well-known and distinguished blacksmith.
In 1911 Mr. Ofrim entered into partnership with Thomas Fowler, opening a blacksmith shop opposite of the town hall. In 1918 he left blacksmithing and opened a hardware store with Adolph Maland, a partnership and business that would be part of the Camrose business community for over 40 years. Almer sold the business and retired after the death of his partner, Mr. Maland in 1959.
The second location of their hardware building was on the corner of 50th and 50th and it became a favorite gathering spot with an old pot bellied stove in the centre of the store. When sleighs were used for winter travel rural folk commonly stopped to warm up before heading home.
Almer married Amelia Knutsvig on New Year’s Eve, 1919 and they had four children, Robert, Marie, Dennis and Alice. He was an ardent skier. In 1917 he is credited with locating the first ski slide near Banff. The next year he broke his leg on that same ski jump during a long distance jump. He did continue to ski but wasn’t able to jump as he once had.
During his life Mr. Ofrim presented contradictory qualities. It was reported that when a blacksmith, there was not a more rugged individual, yet in later life he was known as a gentle, kindly man.
Almer was active in Messiah Lutheran Church, the Board of Trade and was a life member of the Chamber of Commerce. He took an active part in the local ski club and was a hunting enthusiast.
He passed away in 1964 and is buried at the Camrose Valleyview Cemetery.