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Bob Edwards (1860 to 1922)

Robert Chambers Edwards was born into a family of privilege in Scotland, but was orphaned as a youth. He was raised by two aunts, and although he did not graduate from University, he attended several prestigious schools. He travelled to France, where he created an English newspaper before leaving for the United States with his brother. He travelled extensively across the country until 1897, when he settled in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. Edwards’ publishing career was launched there, when he started the Wetaskiwin Free Lance, a weekly of news, humour, and social commentaries. The paper was successful, but local advertisers began to dislike Edwards when he began to poke fun at them.

Glenbow Archives: NA-1514-3

Robert Chambers Edwards was born into a family of privilege in Scotland, but was orphaned as a youth. He was raised by two aunts, and although he did not graduate from University, he attended several prestigious schools. He travelled to France, where he created an English newspaper before leaving for the United States with his brother. He travelled extensively across the country until 1897, when he settled in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. Edwards’ publishing career was launched there, when he started the Wetaskiwin Free Lance, a weekly of news, humour, and social commentaries. The paper was successful, but local advertisers began to dislike Edwards when he began to poke fun at them.

Edwards left Alberta briefly to work at the Winnipeg Free Press, but returned later in the year after deciding that he much preferred working for himself. He moved around to several towns in Alberta, starting up newspapers, including the Alberta Sun in Leduc, the Wetaskiwin Breeze, and in 1902, the Eye Opener in High River.

In his newspapers, Edwards created several fictional characters, outspoken like himself, who would often contribute humorous and satirical commentaries related to local events. The Eye Opener was well received by most in High River, but the local clergy openly abhorred Edwards’ alcohol dependence and his affinity for writing about liquor. In 1904, Edwards greatly offended a local minister, and soon after, moved to Calgary.

He launched the Calgary Eye Opener, a weekly where he once again used humour and satire to bring about social change. Edwards championed the environment, Senate reform, votes for women, hospitalization benefits and old-age pensions and support for the underprivileged. The Eye Opener became a great success in Calgary, and over the years its national readership grew to a circulation of 35,000 copies.

Edwards often stirred up controversy with his unique brand of humour, and no member of the community was immune to his sharp criticisms. He was sued several times because of his outspoken manner, but that did not deter him. He played a strong role in the introduction of prohibition to Alberta in 1916. However, once the measure was in place, he criticised it when he saw the effects of illegal liquor trafficking.

In 1917, Edwards married Katherine Penman, a young woman who had just arrived from Scotland. Edwards was elected as an independent member of the Alberta Legislative Assembly in 1921, however he was only able to sit for one session before succumbing to illness in 1922. Edwards is remembered for his witty political commentary, using humour and satire to work for political change across the province and nation.

Biographical resources

Biographi.ca
Canadian Encyclopedia
Kerry Longpre and Margaret Dickson, Twenty-two Provocative Canadians: In the Spirit of Bob Edwards, Bayeux Arts Inc., 1999
Grant MacEwan, Eye Opener Bob, The Institute of Applied Art Limited, 1957
Brian Brennan, Building a Province – 60 Alberta Lives, Fifth House Limited, 2000
Photo -NA 450-1 Glenbow