Bob Edwards (12 September 1864 to 14 November 1922)
“The Calgary Eye Opener”
It’s risky but I’m following advice from This Hour Has 22 Minutes today. Speaking about Robert Chambers Edwards, they advise: “The stuff that came out of his pen (well, some of it, anyhow) is deathless. He was a superb aphorist, and should be quoted at every opportunity.
“Much of his political commentary is as relevant today as it was when he penned it — just change the names of the politicians to suit, and voila, your very own prefab.”
I agree, so here’s a glimpse into his work.
After arriving in Canada in 1897 and stumbling about on ranches in southern Alberta for a while, he returned to the fourth estate where he’d begun in Scotland.
His newspaper, the Calgary Eye Opener soon had a national readership of 30,000 Canadians. “For Edwards,” wrote his biographer “public enemy Number One was hypocrisy, and he exposed and fought it fearlessly.
“His weapon was satire; his strength was honesty. He made many enemies for the hypocrites didn’t like what they read.”
His power was legendary.
R.B. Bennett blamed the Calgary Eye Opener for his defeat in 1905, and one of Calgary’s mayors admitted to friends he could not be re-elected because Bob Edwards was opposed to him.
Liberal Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier came under his gaze, and his pen, in 1903: “The irresponsible freaks, highball guzzlers and unabashed grafters who have been ruling the roost in Ottawa for so long are at last within measurable distance of their finish. The soup vats are ready.”
The Senate fared no better at Christmas 1906. On December 22, he wrote: “As a home for decayed politicians run on purely benevolent lines at $2,500 per, the Senate could lay claim to being a success.
“Indeed, were they to throw off the mask and admit once and for all that the place is but a Cabman’s Shelter, a Refuge for fallen political prune-eaters, a Haven for the discredited, a Home for pensions who don’t need the money, an Exhibition of ill-visaged wax-works and chamber of horrors, the country at large would think more of them.
“It is the hypocrisy, the bogus prestige and spirit of make believe which pervades the red chamber, making it redolent of pompous humbug and aristocratic mystery, that irritates the people so much.”
No facet of society was exempt from his penetrating pen.
In a 1916 Society Column he reported, “J. P. Q., the local evangelist who fell into an open sewer and broke his flask has fully recovered and is now able to be about!”
His views on representation were current: “From stock centres, an experienced stockman (not necessarily a bronco buster) who has a thorough understanding of the stockman’s requirements, is the right and logical kind of representative to have, certainly not a doctor who only knows the difference between a horse and a cow because the horse has no horns. (3 Sept. ‘03)
He wore the “evil of drink” on his back, so his advice on prohibition was the voice of experience.
“The gradual disappearance of whiskey can be brought about by providing and making accessible to everybody a cheap form of mild stimulant and by no other means … Prohibitionists can take it from me that they will never make headway in the direction of true temperance until they meet Human Nature half way.”
He even published his own prayer: “Lord, let me keep a straight way in the path of honour — and a straight face in the presence of solemn asses.
“Let me not truckle to the high, nor bull-doze the low; let me frolic with the jack and the joker and (sometimes) win the game. Lead me unto Truth and Beauty — and tell me her name.
“Keep me sane, but not too sane. Let me not take the world or myself too seriously, and grant more people to laugh with and fewer to laugh at; let me condemn no man because of his grammar and no woman on account of her morals, neither being responsible for either.
“Preserve my sense of values and proportions. Let me be healthy while I live, but not live too long. Which is about all for today, Lord, Amen.” (4 Aug.1917)
He’s the kind of man a Yukon sourdough would say, “he’ll do to ride the river with.” A tip of the hat to the memory of Bob Edwards, and our thanks to Grant McEwan, a man of similar calibre, for his book Eye Opener Bob where most of these stories originated.