Robert Edwards was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1864. He attended Glasgow University and then travelled Europe attempting some journalism before arriving in the United States to try his hand at the glamorous life of being a cowboy. The life of a cowboy was not for Edwards, however, and he arrived at Calgary in 1904 after stops in Texas, Wyoming, Wetaskiwin, Leduc, Strathcona, Winnipeg and High River.
Edwards started the first newspaper between Calgary and Edmonton, The Wetaskiwin Free Lance. Financial difficulties forced Edwards to leave Wetaskiwin, but the first issue of the Eye Opener was published on March 4, 1902 in High River. After animosity developed between Edwards and the local Methodist church over the content of the paper as well as the personal character of its editor, he moved to Calgary in 1904. Soon the Calgary Eye Opener appeared in the streets, more satirical than ever, and had a much better reception than his previous attempt.
The satirical content of the Eye Opener was subject to criticism throughout its circulation history, as was Bob Edwards' editor. In the early years of the twentieth century, when the personal life of influential people had more to do with their acceptance into society than their professional contributions, Edwards seemed a paradox. He attacked the church, but believed in Christian charity. He was officially a Conservative but a reformer, advocating the unpopular idea of the vote for women. He drank heavily throughout his life, yet advocated prohibition in the 1915 provincial plebiscite. Add to his puzzling personal life the scathing attacks on leading citizens both in the community of Calgary and provincially, and one can see that Edwards was not popular with many influential Albertans.
At the age of fifty-three, Edwards the lifelong bachelor, married Kate Penman, a twenty-four-year-old Glasgow girl. But his penchant for drinking made for a less than idyllic marriage.
In 1921 Edwards became a member of the club he had formerly satirized - an elected Conservative Member of Alberta's Legislative Assembly for Calgary. Edwards wrote, "Now I know what a statesman is; he is a dead politician, and what this country needs is more of them." He sat in the legislature for one year. Edwards died from pneumonia on November 14, 1922 at the age of fifty-eight.
After his death Edwards was appreciated for his courage to speak his mind, work for social reform and the integrity of his controversial character. The citizens of Calgary turned out in droves for his funeral, and, thirty-two years later when the Men's Canadian Club of Calgary met to name Alberta's Prize Personality, Edwards was selected for his intelligence, originality, and public influence. He is buried in Calgary’s Union Cemetery.
Alberta Theatre Projects, a Calgary based theatre company, established the Bob Edwards Award in 1974. At the annual awards luncheon, ATP presents the prize to a Canadian writer who "exemplifies the spirit of freedom of expression."
To learn more about Bob Edwards check out your local library for Eye Opener Bob: The Story of Bob Edwards by Grant MacEwan.