Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

Edwards, Bob (1864-1922)

One of Canada's leading journalists, Bob Edwards was a critic of government officials and the excessive moralism of the churches as well as a supporter of the emancipation of women and the temperance crusade. He was best known as the one-man staff, editor, and publisher of the Calgary Eye Opener and remembered for his off-color tales and jokes. Edwards built the paper's circulation and his own reputation for social criticism combined with humor.

Robert Chambers Edwards was born on September 12, 1864, in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was orphaned at an early age and, with his brother Jack, raised by an aunt. He was educated at Glasgow University, where he studied philosophy and literature. For a brief period, Edwards traveled throughout Europe, settling in the south of France, where he continued the family tradition of newspaper writing and publishing. His first enterprise was an English newspaper named the Traveler, which he published on the Riviera and which catered to English gentry traveling abroad.

In 1884 Bob traveled with his brother to the United States and for the next ten years found assorted jobs working on farms and cattle operations in Wyoming, Iowa, and Alberta, Canada. In 1897 he finally settled down in the small town of Wetaskiwin, fifty miles south of Edmonton. There he established the Wetaskiwin Free Lance, the first newspaper to be published between Edmonton and Calgary. Edwards wrote less about "real news" and more on the social issues of the day. The editor of the Calgary Herald was impressed by Edwards's humor and witty journalistic prose and offered to reprint some of his articles in the Calgary paper.

In 1898 Bob Edwards moved to Calgary, where he continued to publish and write for the Wetaskiwin Free Lance. He soon moved on to Winnipeg, where he struggled as a news reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press. Disillusioned as a writer for a large daily, Edwards returned to the small-town life he so enjoyed and set up shop in High River, where he published the first edition of the Eye Opener in March 1902. The hard-drinking, carefree Edwards created fictional characters and tales considered shocking by small-town standards, and eventually he moved his operation to Calgary. As soon as he was settled, Edwards continued to build his reputation by reporting on various local scandals with satire and wit.

Over the next twenty years Bob Edwards became known for standing up for the common person, highlighting the plight of prostitutes, and revealing the scams of fraudulent real estate developers. Personally, he battled severe alcoholism, so much so that in 1916 he was one of the supporters of prohibition in Alberta. A year later he married a Scottish woman who was less than half his age.

In the summer of 1920 Edwards published a soft-cover book of some of his best stories, editorials, and jokes. It was an enormous success and appeared regularly as an annual edition for the remainder of his life. Edwards died on November 14, 1922, leaving a long legacy of witty writings depicting the political, social, and economic times of the early Canadian western frontier. To honor Bob Edwards, Alberta Theater Projects initiated an award in his name recognizing Canadian writers who exemplify the spirit of freedom of expression.

Diane Howard University of Calgary

Dempsey, Hugh. The Best of Bob Edwards. Edmonton, Alberta: Hurtig Publishers, 1975.

Longpré, Kerry, and Margaret Dickson. Provocative Canadians: In the Spirit of Bob Edwards. Calgary, Alberta: Bayeux Arts, 1999.

MacEwan, Grant. Eye Opener Bob: The Story of Bob Edwards. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1974.

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