CALGARY, ALBERTA, CANADA
|Saturday, January 31, 2004||
The Eye Opener's exclusive interview with Bob Edwards
Ace Eye Opener Reporter
Until recently, I’d never seen Bob’s grave. But this morning I repaired to the Union “BooneyaRRRRd” as Bob called it. I spent the better part of today trying to find his grave without success. Just as this afternoon's light faded, off 100 yards to my right, the setting sun flashed off a silver flask onto a tombstone lying on its side on some old newspapers atop a clump of dirt. I bounded over to get a closer look. I thought I read the word “Edwards” engraved on the stone. I galloped towards the stone which, as I got closer, gradually read “Robert Chambers Edwards, MLA …” – to read more, I bolted toward the stone “…Born September 12, 1859…” I dashed on, concentrating on the engraving– “…Died…” Ooops - not been watching where I was going – I tripped and suddenly fell downward into an empty grave. - Down, down faster – BOOOM - my nostrils filled with a blend of cheap cigar smoke and Dewars Scotch Whiskey, I was stretched out on the longest bar in the West. The Long Bar at the Alberta Hotel.
Standing before me was a solid looking mustachioed chap, immaculately dressed, a bowler hat tilted jauntily on the side of his head, a cigar emanating his mouth, his long fingers curled around a large glass of Dewars Scotch Whiskey.
Said I, “Mr. Edwards, I presume?”“Call me Bob foRRRR Gawd’s sake (Bob Edwards spoke with a heavy Scottish brogue and RRRolled his RRRs at every oppoRRRtunity – unfortunately the RRRolled RRRs do not translate well on to the printed page and so we have deleted them from the dialogue)… my brother Jack and I fled Scotland for the open ranges of North America free from stuffed shirts, from pompous pleasantries, free from the class system of old Europe, free from unearned titles. But ya’ know, after all these years, you’ve still got it in Eastern Canada … louk at that vacuous ass Lord Black and louk at year Governor-General. A comic opera, I say, not worthy of a great people … Please call me Bob …. You’re here for an interview Laddy …. Shoot….”
I pulled out my trusty notebook. My notes read as follows:
EDWARDS: “Jack and I bummed around for a few years and set up a ranch at Wetaskiwin in 1895. Jack died suddenly. Jack was a goood rancher, I was 'na,. I hada' give up the ranch. I was classically educated, came from a publishin’ family. Years back, Jack and I had run a little paper on the French Riviera. I opened the Wetaskiwin Free Lance - local news and some of ma irreverent opinions.”
SCOOP: “How did you do?”
EDWARDS: “We built up a big circulation all over Alberta. But the local ecclesiastics ran us out of town, and out of Leduc and out of Strathcona and out of High River.”
EDWARDS: “Not observing the Sabbath, expressing contrary opinions, drinking and hootin’ and yellin’ and generally disturbing’ the Gospel ….. So what. Religion should be a private matter. I would strictly enforce, with criminal sanctions, the separation of church and state. As for same-sex marriage or polygamous marriage, or marriage with androids or with yer pet goat, I would simply remove all reference to marriage from all statutes and from the common law.
“So, finally my dear old friend Paddy Nolan brought me to Calgary. I set up the Eye Opener here in 1904 and published on and off till 1922.”
SCOOP: “And the Calgary Eye Opener was a great success. Did you make any money at it, Bob?”
EDWARDS: “Money and I were always strangers. Nooo I never made much money, Laddy and the 2004 Eye Opener probably won’t either. But I kept ma head above water. I had no fixed costs. I had no staff – except I had a cartoonist and my Social Notes editor under contract. The Rest I did myself. I had no presses – I contracted printing out to other papers – the Herald, the Albertan. Newsprint was a big cost.”
SCOOP: “Bob, the 2004 Eye Opener won’t have that problem. With the Internet, newsprint is eliminated– readers print out their own stories on their own paper.”
EDWARDS: “Well, the 2004 Eye Opener’s costs will be so low it can live on readers alone – the 2004 Eye Opener won’t need advertising. Nor will its competitors. So the newsites of the future won’t be bought off. It’s going to change the whole face of journalism. I wouldn’t invest in the advertising industry – that’s fer sure!!”
SCOOP: “But, Bob, you never caved in to advertisers.”
EDWARDS: “I took ads. But I insisted on inspecting and approving each product before it could be advertised. Many tried to bribe me – the saloon owners (I supported prohibition in 1915), the real estate promoters in 1912, the oil company well-salters in 1914. I could have been a rich man but I turned them all down. But while the Eye Opener was out of circulation, between 1922 and 2004, the media were totally dependent on advertising - advertisers controlled everything.
“Most reporters spend all their time drinking free booze and rewriting press releases written by press agents – spin-doctors - professional liars. In my day, press agents were trash journalists who’d been bought off, lesser beings, spoiled goods. Today, a chump press agent becomes a journalist and then premier of Alberta. In my day, as inconceivable in my day as Fifi D’Orsay becoming Pope.”
SCOOP: “Fifi D’Orsay?”
EDWARDS: “The Eye Opener’s Society Notes Editor. Also Calgary’s first prostitute.”
SCOOP: “Bob, it seems, that except for Fifi and your cartoonist, you, and you alone, made the Eye Opener successful.”
EDWARDS: “Not at all, laddie. Peter McGonigle, horse thief and rapscallion editor of the Midnapore Gazette, sold more Eye Openers than anyone. Lord Strathcona, the whiskered gent who drove the last spike wanted to sue us for comparing McGonigle’s career to Strathcona’s. Paddy talked him out of it. We printed the letters of Albert (“Bertie”) Buzzard-Cholomondeley (Edwards pronounced Bertie’s surname "Bezzard-Chumley"), an English scoundrel remittance man. The letters sought to con and connive funds out of Bertie’s father, Lord Skookingham. Both McGonigle and Bertie were mad, bad and dangerous to know but Eye Opener readers loved ‘em. By the way the McGonigle and Buzzard-Cholomondeley families intermarried and Lord Albert McGonigle-Buzzard-Cholomondeley IV, DFC, OC, president of Perpetual Motion Energy Multi-Corp., Calgary’s top socialite is a direct descendent of both.”
SCOOP: “Now Bob, you said that you published the Eye Opener “on and off”?
EDWARDS: “Well, my favourite bard was always the bat --- when I went on a bat the Eye Opener dinna' get published.
“And Sir Clifford Sifton forced me out of Calgary but only briefly. I had discovered that Sir Clifford, the most powerful man in Canada, Laurier’s Minister of the Interior, was not only a crook, but, worse, a philanderer, with a married woman, no less. The Eye Opener had a duty to expose the cad and did.
“Sir Clifford’s lawyers had to tell him he hadn’t a leg to stand on because what the Eye Opener said was true.
“Sir Clifford took another tack. He secretly bought up the Calgary News, a two-bit paper with a scoundrel editor, Daniel McGillicudy. McGillicudy published a phony letter against me. The letter accused me of being, a ‘four-flusher,’ a ‘tin-horn’, a ‘Welcher’, an ingrate, a libeler, a character thief, a coward, a liar, a drunkard (the only truth uttered), a dope-fiend and a degenerate.
“I took the matter up with Paddy Nolan and we laid charges of criminal libel. Even, David Gilgour, Sir Clifford’s lawyer, who appeared for McGillicudy conceded that I had been libeled. But Sir Clifford had arranged a kangaroo court to try the case. We found ourselves before Mr. Justice N.D. Beck, who Sifton had appointed as a judge. Beck prejudiced the jury against me. They did find for me but warned the Eye Opener to be more discrete in the future. Beck felt justified in fining McGillicudy only $100 (half of what he should ha’ paid) and no costs. I was scandalized and left town for Toronto.
“But, in Toronto, controlled as it was by the Reform League and the Orange Lodge, there was more censorship than there was in Westaskiwin. The sky was overcast with dooon’ts and even the bairds in the trees warbled threats against freedom of expression. I soon returned to Calgary.
“But soon Sir Clifford’s News went broke. The Eye Opener didn’t hesitate to criticize Justice Beck’s many subsequent gaffs… McGillicudy took ill. The Eye Opener said it ‘hoped to see McGillicudy on the streets again, shakin’ hands with his numerous creditors’. McGillicudy died – the Eye Opener’s obituary read: ‘Had it not been for Judge Beck … McGillicudy would have been wearing stripes in the pen two years ago.’
SCOOP: “Now Bob, you were always interested in politics and you were
elected as MLA in 1921. What were your political passions, Bob?”
“Remember I was elected as an Independent, not associated with any party. Political parties are the worst thing that has ever happened to Western democracy.
“Around politics there is always fraud. The biggest political fraud today is the Kyoto Accord as bad as any religious scam I ever saw.
“In my day I believed in health care for all – for every citizen without regard to his station or wealth, and paid for by all the citizens for each other.
“I considered the Canadian Senate “an impotent relic”. In 2004, I would make the Senate elected, effective within a framework of Jeffersonian Democracy of checks and balances, and regionally equal.
“In 2004, having seen how our democracy and how American democracy has been deeply corrupted, I would amend the Criminal Code so that any political contribution would constitute a bribe, pure and simple. Political advertising should be banned; politicians should only debate on public television. Any politician memorizing or reading a speech prepared by anyone else should be jailed for fraud.”
SCOOP: “I can guarantee that the new Eye Opener agrees with you 100% Bob. Bob, tell me – Are you really dead? I mean what are we doing here in 2004 ….”
Bob puffed on his cigar. His face and, then, the whole great barroom faded
away into his cigar smoke and I woke up with a lump on my head on a dark night
in the Union boonyard.
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