Robert Chambers Edwards was born on February 17, 1861 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 in 1893 with his brother. He travelled extensively across the country until 1894, when he entered Canada and worked briefly as a proof reader for the Winnipeg Free Press. In 1895 they met Benjamine (Jerry) Boyce in Edmonton. Boyce would become Edwards benefactor. Edwards’ brother “Jack” worked on a farm at Pretty Hills near Wetaskiwin and Edwards began bartending at Boyce’s Walker House Hotel. While working at the hotel Edwards became popular with his sketches and drawings of bar patrons This led to his publishing career when he started a weekly of news, humour, and social commentaries in 1897 called the Wetaskiwin Free Lance. The paper was successful, but local advertisers began to dislike Edwards when he began to poke fun at them. When Boyce bought a hotel in Leduc Edwards followed him and started another newspaper called the Alberta Sun. It covered both Leduc and Strathcona.
When his brother died unexpectedly in 1900 Edwards turned the management of his papers over to Robert Crummer and began cattle ranching in the Bittern Lake area. The ranch was better for his physical health, but Edwards’ heart was in writing and he returned to newspapers when he established the Wetaskiwin Breeze in 1901.
When Boyce sold the Leduc Waldorf Hotel and moved to High River Edwards soon followed him and started the Eye Opener.
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. Jerry Boyce the man that provided Edwards with his start was there at the end serving as one of his pall bearers.
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
Bert Reynolds, “Siding 16” An Early History of Wetaskiwin to 1939, Bob Edwards…Free Lance with an Edge pp. 64-69, 1975
Edmonton Bulletin articles 1895 – 1902
1901 Canadian Census Item Number 976941