Diaries of Ethel Eva Brander, nee Conybeare, 1891-1965

My grandmother was an accomplished woman: a scholar, a musician, a nurse in World War One, mother of two.

She was the daughter of Charles Frederick Pringle Conybeare, a businessman of some note, supporter of the Anglican Church and pillar of the Lethbridge community, the town's first lawyer. (Indeed, the second lawyer in all Alberta, James Lougheed being the first.)

Great-grandfather did VERY well for himself, as the settlers occupied the "acquired" territory, building and starting companies. He was involved in the start of a number of them, had a huge house for the time, sent his three children to the best schools out East.

His now-cringeworthy poetry has been scanned, the books that made my brothers and I crack up are on the net, linked from his wikipedia page. I'll say no more about it, except to beg you not to read. Let's just say he thought the British Empire was the greatest thing ever, and what it did to all its colonies, was to bring light into darkness.

Her diaries start, her just eighteen, going on her "polishing" tour of Europe.

They don't offer much "history" in the sense of her meeting famous people (OK, a few; the family was friends with R.B. Bennett, Vol.III) or witnessing famous events. But you do get a picture of the comfortable life in upper-class Canada in the early 20th century.

One of the few colour pictures I have of her, probably 1960-ish, age 70.

What hovers over the reader like a cloud, is what's coming: Ethel's life after 1914 was five years of war, then ten years of good times, as she raised a family with her war-veteran husband in comfort, the roaring 20s.

But: then her father dies, her mother had spent most of the estate, THEN they have to send the kids off to another war; the giant house was sold by the late 1940s, and they were living in a trailer by the 1950s.

It was a happy ending, by the skin of their teeth: some sort of long-lost investment of CFP's, in BC Hydro, was found, and they had the modest but comfortable retirement in the house you see behind her, warm and cozy in Kelowna, visits from six grandsons.

Web Links to Historical Documents

The War Records of Alastair Ian Brander, her wife's allowance starts in February 1918.

The War Records of Henry Bruce Attwood Conybeare, her brother, born 1895.

The The Obituary of Edith Conybeare, 2011. She was the widow of Bruce's son, Maynard Conybeare, and notes the names of many descendants. Bruce has five great-great grandchildren in Alberta, fifth-generation born there.

Scanned Diary, Volume 1: March 23 - July 5, 1910

The entire volume is a travelogue of a trip across the Atlantic on the "Carpathia", the Cunard liner that was to rescue the Titanic passengers two years later. Then, it's straight off to Italy, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, the Vatican, Florence, and Venice.

Ethel is with Mother and her sister, and they cross paths with many friends from their social class.

It is interesting to compare the very early tourist experience, when there were just a few tourists in places like Rome, to the crowds of today. On Sunday, being Anglicans, they felt quite comfortable attending Catholic Masses, so they just went down the street to a Catholic Mass - at the Vatican, pausing to admire the Sistine Chapel ceiling. You just wandered in and out of the place, at the time.

But, a tourism industry there already is, including guys who will help you walk up Vesuvius, by pulling you with a strap you hung onto, behind them. It's mostly by motorcar, in 1910, but they have various expeditions by horse-cart in Italy, which is still switching over.

Scanned Diary, Volume 2: July 1910 - November 1912

The European tour is completed with a long visit to England, where they stay with many other Conybeares, all of whom seem to have houses with names.

They then return to Canada, and the rest of the volume is two years of education at London Conservatory of Music, following high-school at Havergal, which she continues to visit. Nearly all of the volume just recounts the many, many concerts and plays she went to. A frequent date named "Roy" is never given a last name, or description, and it doesn't seem to have been at all serious. The sinking of the Titanic goes unnoted, as does any other political or social news. Just friends, parties, concerts. The carefree life of the upper class before 1914.

There's no question in my mind, that her real job in Toronto was to get an, ahem, "MRS" degree, to find a nice guy among the wealthy of central Canada. There's no mention of any career at all in the cards. Her mother's career is certainly "society dame" to the extent that was possible in Lethbridge, population 9200 at the time. Ethel seems entirely unconcerned with the future.

Scanned Diary, Volume 3: November 1912 - September 1915

Volume 3 takes us from the socializing of 1912, to being a nurse in England, just about to start her first training day at the hospital.

Her brother Bruce, 20, in London Records Office of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, looking for a commission from Maj-Gen Sam Steele. I'm fairly certain that's his picture at left, from inside the back cover.

Scanned Diary, Volume 4: September 17, 1915 - January 8, 1916

Volume four sees Ethel through her preparation to begin nursing, her visits to relatives that turn out to still have Wikipedia pages for their liberal activities for Women's Sufferage and striking Irish farmers. Then her training and work begin, in Westminster Hospital, across the street from the Abbey, and her residence at "the Home", 27 Queen's Gate, now an expensive flat next door to the Iraqi Embassy - about 5km west of the Abbey.

The sketch at left, page 90, is of her view from it, of all the belching coal smokestacks.

Brother (Henry) Bruce, incidentally, got married very suddenly.