Cartoon from The Eye Opener, depicting editor Bob Edwards
Saturday June 15, 1907 p1
The Calgary Public Library Foundation is hosting the 37th annual Bob Edwards Award Gala this week at the Fairmont Palliser. This year’s winner is Mary Walsh who is best known for her own brand of journalism in This Hour has 22 Minutes. The Gala will raise funds for the Calgary Public Library Foundation.
Bob Edwards, for those of you who may not have heard of him, was the publisher of the newspaper The Eye-Opener, in various incarnations and locations, from 1902 until 1922. The newspaper was published in High River, Calgary, Port Arthur, Winnipeg and Calgary, again, on a fairly erratic schedule. It was unlike any other newspaper in town. Alan Fotheringham, in his introduction to Irresponsible Freaks, Highball Guzzlers & Unabashed Grafters: A Bob Edwards Chrestomathy says that The Eye-Opener “frightened the bejeezus out of Calgary….It could – and did- make or break politicians.” Edwards pulled no punches. The publisher of the Calgary Daily News, Daniel McGillicuddy, called Edwards “a ruffian, a moral leper” and “a skunk…” He also promised to prove that Bob was “a libeler, a character thief, a coward, a liar, a drunkard, a dope dealer and a degenerate.” Only the drunkard part could probably have been proven; Edwards’ relationship with alcohol was well known. If The Eye-Opener wasn’t published for a few weeks, Edwards would publish an apology saying he had been under the weather with “let us say, a very bad cold”
Though his politics were right-leaning, he would savage politicians no matter what their political stripe. His weapon was satire and he had a deadly sense of humour. For example, in the thick of the debate of which Alberta city would become the new province’s capital, Edwards, seeing that the cards were stacked against Calgary, wrote this imagined scenario, reportedly taken from the Edmonton Bulletin:
Dr. Lafferty yesterday became the first lieutenant-governor of the new province of Alberta. Edmonton was en fete. It was her first gala day since the hanging of King at the fort.
Lafferty was in great form. Every eye was bent on that weird figure as he was driven amid wild huzzahs to the scene of his inauguration, escorted by a body guard of influential real estate sharks. The tepees and shacks on either side of Main Street were tastefully decorated with bunting and streamers… while the goats on the roofs of the Irish quarter shook their shaggy beards in sympathy with the occasion.
The new lieutenant-governor ever and anon stood up in his carriage and raised his hat, smiling fatuously and wagging his head, at which hundreds and hundreds of partially Seagramized citizens raised their voices in enthusiastic acclaim…The sound of cannons issued from every billiard hall, and the screams from the neighboring asylum gave the scene a characteristic local tone. (The Eye-Opener, March 18, 1905, p1)
Edwards, along with his ability to puncture the most inflated ego, also had a soft spot for those at the other end of society. He weighed in on such topics as the inadequate wages paid by Eaton’s to their female employees, the plight of the other “working girls” and the working poor. He was an excellent journalist who was quoted by publications across the country and in the US. There are some wonderful collections of his work: Irresponsible Freaks… mentioned above, and The Wit and Wisdom of Bob Edwards edited by Hugh Dempsey. Eye-Opener Bob by Grant MacEwan tells the story of Edwards’ life and career and there is an excellent short bio in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography which is accessible through the Calgary Public Library E-library. But to really appreciated Bob Edwards, you have to read his newspaper. The Eye Opener is available on microfilm in the Local History room at the Central Library. It is also available online at the Our Future Our Past website.
Bob Edwards' Residence, photographed just before demolition in 1968
919 4th Avenue SW
Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 0564