William (Bill) Frank Fowler
William (Bill) Frank Fowler Camrose to set up businesses for themselves. Thomas, a blacksmith, formed a partnership with Almer Ofrim, another family that has been in Camrose since pioneer days.
William Frank Fowler was one local WW II soldier who returned to Camrose to become a well known community leader and businessman. We also recognize the positive influence other Fowler family members have made on our early history, and would like to bring attention also to William and Thomas Fowler, brothers who arrived in Camrose during those very early settler years.
Bill's story... After enlisting and going through "Initial Training" (that's where the men learned protocol... how to salute, march, eat, drink, walk and talk like a soldier), Bill Fowler moved on to "Elementary Flight School" where he learned how to fly. Next he enrolled in "Service Flying Training School" where he learned how to fly specifically geared towards combat. It was at this point in time that his aptitude towards flight instruction was discovered. Noting also that Bill had a wife and children, he was deemed to be more suitable to train other pilots than fly combat missions. As a result, Bill next attended "Instructor School". In September of 1944, he was shipped to an "Operational Training Unit" in England, which was a division of the Allied Bomber Command. During the next six months at the OTU, he completed a conversion course on Wellington twin engine bombers and assigned a crew to fly operationally in the European Theatre. In the spring of 1945 as the war in Europe ended, Bill attended a "Four Engine Heavy Bomber Conversion Course", on Lancasters which would have enabled him to continue to serve as a bomber pilot on aircraft designed to strike Japan. His next move would have been to somewhere in the Pacific, however, the war ended quite suddenly in August after two Atomic Bombs were dropped on Japan. He returned to Camrose in October of '45.
Bill became committed to many Camrose organizations over the next several decades. He helped establish the Camrose Flying Society and was involved in the development of the Camrose Airport. There were others who had returned from the war with a passion for flying; and having no local facilities to practice or house flying, set out to arrange it. While he was the Chamber of Commerce president in 1961, Bill encouraged City Council to purchase a ¼ section of land from the province, which is still the location of the Camrose Airport. Bill was president of the Camrose Flying Club in 1971.
Bill also brought his flying expertise to the local 644 Cougars Camrose Rotary Air Cadets. He worked with the organization as an instructor for many years, sharing his passion for flying with the next generation of young pilots. He continued to be part of Air Cadet events and annual inspections for the duration of his life.
Bill was active in the Camrose Rotary Club from the time he joined until his death. He sold tickets, helped with events and followed the philosophy of service beyond self.
Bill was a long-time member, Director and President of the Battle River Tourist Association (which no longer exists) and championed our community throughout the province.
Bill had a passion for learning, which was part of what made him a good instructor. In 1967, as a centennial project, he began attending Camrose Lutheran College, taking one course each year, and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Alberta in 1982. He was 50 when he started and 65 when he finished. During that time he was also a member, and often the Chair, of the Camrose Lutheran College Scholarship Committee.
Born in 1917, Bill rose from humble beginnings, conquering hardship to serve his country and to become an inspirational community leader. At the age of twelve, during the depression, he contributed to the income of his single parent home. His mother made silk flowers, Bill and his 10 year old brother sold them door to door in Camrose. Live flowers were not readily available locally in this era, and people wanted them to create center pieces for dining room tables, and home décor. Funeral homes needed them for services. Bill also delivered the Edmonton Journal and sold Journal subscriptions to Camrosians door to door. At this age of twelve he did not work to buy candy or anything for himself, but did so to put food on the table. Bill learned valuable lessons about himself at this very young age - he was actually pretty good at sales and had great entrepreneurial spirit, he had a love for newspapers, and an even greater love for family and community.
Bill was an "idea" generator, was incredibly good at coming up with new ideas and putting them into motion. He was president of the Camrose Chamber of Commerce in 1961 and part of the committee that brought to life our treasured Jaywalkers Jamboree. He loved being a part anything to do with tourism or the Chamber, earning him the nickname "Mr. Camrose". In recognition of his dedication to community, a Mirror Lake Park building housing the Chamber of Commerce and visitor centre was named "The Bill Fowler Centre".
Bill married B.H. (Berdie) Anderson in 1940, a woman who would prove to have similar community dedication and business aptitude. Together they founded the Camrose Booster in 1952. Berdie was the first female Chamber president in Alberta, and only the second in all of Canada. She played a huge role in setting up the first Camrose daycare facility, so that young moms could work. It was the only facility available in Alberta at the time outside of Edmonton and Calgary. She was a member of the group of individuals who initiated the development of the Burgess School for the Mentally Retarded, the predecessor to Camrose Association for Community Living. Before marrying Bill, Berdie was offered a job in the office at the Camrose Lutheran College. She absolutely adored, and greatly admired her boss, Mr. Chester Ronning. Berdie was inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2006 for her achievements and received an Honourary Doctorate of Laws from Augustana in 2008.
Both Bill and Berdie served on the Camrose City council.
Frank Fowler, Bill's father, volunteered to serve in World War I. He served as a stretcher-bearer on the Western Front. He met Lucy Owston, in England while serving in WW1, married, and brought her home to the Camrose area to start a family. Lucy later became Camrose's first Librarian.
A long connection to community history: Starting with Bill's grandfather and stretching all the way to the present, seven generations of Fowler family members have lived in the Camrose area. Currently there are four generations locally, who range from 70 to 2 years of age.
Two Fowler brothers left Ontario in the mid-1880's to head west in order to join in the second Riel rebellion, the North-West Rebellion. They were too late to fight, the rebellion ended in 1885 just as they arrived. Details are a little sketchy, but at that time, William settled in the Duhamel area, which is just on the other side of the valley to the south of Camrose, while Thomas did some work at Fort Edmonton. One was a blacksmith and the other a harness-maker. These would be Bill's grandfather, and great-uncle (Thomas was the great uncle).
Thomas returned to Ontario briefly to be married, and then moved west again. In 1905 the brothers moved into Camrose to set up businesses for themselves. Thomas, a blacksmith, formed a partnership with Almer Ofrim, another family that has been in Camrose since pioneer days.
The love the family has for this community was likely was passed on from these early settlers.
Chester Ronning was a respected Canadian diplomat who constantly strove for better relations between the East and West. For 25 years he was a pioneer in bridging communications between China and North America. Born in China in 1894, son of Lutheran missionaries, he grew up speaking Chinese. A portion of his childhood was spent on a homestead near Bardo.
In 1927, Dr. Ronning became principal of Camrose Lutheran College, living the next 15 years a few blocks from the College with his wife Inga and raising six children. During this time Chester Ronning took up painting, and sculpting, and also directed several choirs.
He left this position during the Second World War and served in Intelligence. Over the next 25 years he served in diplomatic posts in China, Norway, India and the United Nations. He participated in the international commissions on Korea and Laos and undertook special missions to Hanoi in attempts to mediate an end to the Vietnam War.
Among many honors, he was designated an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1967 and became a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1972. In Camrose an elementary school is named in his honor as well as the Augustana campus Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life.
Chester Ronning passed away in 1984 at the age of 91 years and is buried in the Camrose Valleyview Cemetery.
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 Julian Jorgensen 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.
Mr. M.A. Maxwell
Mr. M.A. Maxwell worked for the Town of Camrose as Engineer in 1911. His role in the successful development of both the Electric Plant and Waterworks installation allowed Camrose to emerge as a flourishing municipality, commanding respect from community leaders across western Canada the northern US states and even from England.The electrical plant began operation early in 1911. During construction the plant was consistently ahead of schedule and under budget. Within three months of operation the venture saw modest profit. Attention was then given to the installation of the water lines and placement of the wells, and under Mr. Maxwell’s supervision and labor our water system were accredited to being among the best in North America.
Rev. Thomas Torger Carlson
Rev. Thomas Torger Carlson was born March 25, 1864 on Rennes Island, Norway. At the age of 18 he moved to Story County, Iowa and in 1890 he entered seminary in Minnesota. Rev. Carlson accepted a call to be a missionary to a large population of Lutherans in and around Camrose, Alberta. He arrived in the spring of 1906. Rev. Carlson either started or served in seven parishes: Bardo, Round Hill, Kingman, Camrose, New Norway, Dinant and East Hay Lakes. All these churches with the exception on 1 are still active and have celebrated 100th anniversaries.
In 1910, T.T. Carlson became vice president of the “Alberta Norwegian Lutheran College Association”, acting on behalf of his congregations. In 1911, prior to the completion of Old Main, he was instrumental in organizing classroom space in 2 local churches and for making arrangements to rent the Heather Brae Hotel for the sum of $200 per month for student lodging. The Camrose Lutheran College commenced its first school year on October 2, 1911.Rev. Carlson returned to the US in 1914. He died in 1932 and is buried at the Turtle Mountain Cemetery.
Mrs. Carla Didrickson-Hoyme
Mrs. Carla Didrickson-Hoyme joined the teaching staff at Camrose Lutheran College in 1911. Her extensive musical background influenced the Colleges extraordinary music program, attracting students to the College from great distances.
Duncan Sampson, the first merchant in Camrose had the honor of purchasing the first town site lot and built the first business, arriving in Stoney Creek from Ontario in 1904. He remained in business here until 1926, when he moved to New Westminster. He sat on the Town Council from 1910 until 1913, on the School Board, and was also instrumental in helping to organize the Camrose Agricultural Society. He was born May 1, 1859 in Ontario and died in May 5, 1930 in New Westminster, BC.
Dr. P. F. Smith
Perhaps no single person in the history of Camrose has left a deep influence upon general population as did the late Dr. P. F. Smith. Born in Prince Edward Island March 25th, 1873, he studied at John Hopkins University and graduated as a gold medalist. He practiced for a short time in Birmingham, Alabama, but the call of Canada was so strong within him, that he returned to Canada, moving to Camrose in 1912. However, he had to write his Canadian Medical License after coming here, associating himself with the Dr. G. G. Stewart. Besides being official Doctor for the C.N.R., he won the hearts of thousands of patients by his sheer merit and his understanding of human frailty and of those enduring suffering. Besides these commendable traits, he was also a keen horticulturist. He died in 1949 in Camrose.
Walter William Assheton-Smith - "Blue" Smith
"Blue" Smith was awarded "The Imperial Service Order Medal" which was presented to him in Camrose on September 23rd, 1910. This award had been instituted by King Edward VII in 1902 as a means of rewarding meritorious service in unhealthy places abroad. As far as can be determined, Blue Smith was the only member of the Canadian Mounted police force to ever receive this particular medal. He was known for his faithful attention to detail, was also an artist/poet and was diligent in paying attention to his homestead at Edberg. He was born in London, England, November 27, 1864 and died October 25, 1944 in Ferintosh, AB.
Frederick (Fred) Pratt
Came to Camrose in 1909
Died October 6th, 1961
Buried in Camrose Cemetery
He was an agricultural entrepreneur.
Charles T. (Chas) Burrows
Immigrated to Canada 1908 (Edmonton)
Moved to Camrose in 1909
Died July 8, 1961 in Camrose
Buried in Camrose Cemetery
He was a well known building contractor.
Frank P. Layton
Frank Layton was born in Great Village, Nova Scotia and in 1906 married Myrtle Whyte in Wetaskiwin.
John Russell was born on a farm near London, Ontario. He studied at the Ottawa Normal School, St. Catherine’s Collegiate, University of Toronto and Queen’s University. He and Adeline Barr were married in 1895.
Frank Farley was born in St. Thomas, Ontario and made his way west arriving in Camrose in 1907 where he started a real estate business. He seized every opportunity to travel the province to gather data for a work on Alberta birds. Frank published in 1932 “Birds of the Battle River Region of Central Alberta”. He authored many papers, the majority of which appeared in the 'Canadian Field-Naturalist.' In due time Farley won wide recognition on the continent as a lover and student of birds and an ardent conservationist. When in 1921 one of the first bird sanctuaries was established in Alberta just north of Camrose Frank served as warden until 1931. This is now part of Miquelon Lake Provincial Park. He is credited by his nephew Farley Mowat with mentoring him to become a writer of nature.