Ivan Clement Gittens circa 1944

Ivan Clement Gittens

A Life Sketch of

Ivan Clement Gittens (1916-1980)


Ivan was born April 23, 1916, in the Parish of Christ Church, Barbados the son of Edwin “Teddy” Johnson Gittens and Annie “Sis” Eileen Foster.  Ivan was baptized on May 7, 1916, in the Roman Catholic Church of St. Patrick, in the Parish of St. Michael, Barbados.   What’s unique about Ivan’s baptism is that he is the first Gittens to be baptized in the Catholic Church.

Ivan and Jean Gittens
Ivan and Jean Gittens
L to R: Ivan, Hilda and Edgar Gittens
L to R: Ivan, Hilda and Edgar Gittens

Ivan was the oldest of three children.  His brother Edgar Clement Gittens was born in 1918.  Ivan’s sister Hilda Eileen Gittens, was born in 1920.  Edgar and Hilda were also born in Barbados.

Teddy and Sis, Ivan’s parents, married in 1913 and lived in the Parish of Christ Church.  The marriage certificate listed Teddy’s occupation as a Clerk.  When Edgar was born in 1918, the family lived at the Garrison, in the Parish of St. Michael.  Teddy’s occupation was now Clerk in Charge.  Family lore tells that Teddy subsequently became a travelling salesman for the Singer Sewing Machine Company in the Caribbean.  Teddy frequently travelled through the Caribbean islands and to what is now known as Guyana.   All evidence indicates that the family was prospering.

The fortunes of the family took a dramatic turn in 1921.  On one of Teddy’s sales trips, he contacted ptomaine food poisoning on the island of St. Lucia located about 100 miles by sea away from Barbados.  When his wife “Sis” learned of Teddy’s condition she immediately sailed to St. Lucia and as family lore recounts, she arrived shortly before Teddy’s death.  Teddy was 34 when he died.  He was buried in St. Lucia.

There is also another account of Teddy’s death according to family lore.  This story tells of Teddy being shot in St. Lucia while attempting to collect a debt he was owed.   The common family belief is that ptomaine poisoning is likely the more probable cause of Teddy’s death.  Ivan was 5 years old when his father died; Edgar 3 and Hilda only 1.

After Teddy’s death, Ivan’s mother moved into the home of her parents Samuel “Clement” and Gertrude Foster, better known as Granny Foster.   The house was named Boylston and was situated in the Garrison, in the Parish of St. Michael.   Also living in Boylston were Ivan’s uncle and aunt, Percy and Kitty Foster and Granny Foster’s sister, Aunt Toosie.  Aunt Toosie was a spinster, who apparently was a strange lady.  She spoke very little and kept much to herself.  Life at Boylston must have been quite a change for Ivan who was only 5 years old at the time.

The Boylston extended family grew between 1925 and 1930 with the births of three children, Paul, Jessica and Maurice to Uncle Percy and Aunt Kitty.  A friendship between the children of Uncle Percy and Aunt Kitty and Ivan and his siblings grew over the years and lasted throughout their adult lives.

Ivan and his family lived at Boylston with his grandparents until 1927 when Boylston was sold to the Government of Barbados.  The house was renamed Savannah Lodge and it was the official residence of the Colonial Secretary.  Sadly, it now sits in a vacant and deteriorating condition.

In 1927, Ivan’s grandparents moved into a house in Hastings, named Ferndale where they lived until Granny Foster died in 1934.  After Granny Foster’s death, her husband Clement Foster was so devastated that he would not return to Ferndale following the funeral.  Shortly thereafter Clement Foster found a house on Hastings Beach behind the Savannah Hotel near the Garrison.   In due course, the remainder of the family, Sis, Ivan, Edgar and Hilda moved in with him.  They lived together until Clement Foster died in 1936.

After Clement Foster’s death, Ivan and his family moved into a small house on the Hastings road half way between the Sea View and Ferndale, but on the land side of the road. The house was named “Beulah”.  Ivan and Edgar were finished school and working in 1936 and were supporting their mother and sister, Hilda.   By all accounts, the family continued to live together until Ivan immigrated to Canada in 1939.

Percy and Kitty Foster along with their three children, Paul, Jessica and Maurice moved into their own house after Boylston was sold in 1927. The house was a small cottage in Hastings named “Cottage Louise”.   In about 1936 Aunt Kitty and Uncle Percy converted “Cottage Louise” into the Markham Guest House, in order to augment the meagre salary of Uncle Percy.  Markham Guest House received Canadian visitors travelling to Barbados in the “Lady Boats”.  It was through the Markham Guest House that Ivan was to meet his future wife Jean Taylor Francis.

Little is known about Ivan’s life through these years except that he was an accomplished tennis player, a skill which he carried into his adult life in Canada.  Ivan was also a talented cricketer.  He attended Harrison College and completed his education in 1933 at age 17.  Ivan’s military record revealed he then took 2 years of business courses to study accounting.  In 1936, at age 20, Ivan got his first job as the manager in the Radio and Electrical Department of a department store in Barbados.

Jean Francis lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  When Jean turned 18 while attending the Halifax Art College, her grandmother gave her a gift of a trip to anywhere she would like to go.  Jean and her grandmother decided on Barbados and made arrangements to stay at the Markham Guest House.  The story goes that Ivan first saw Jean while she was waiting for a bus in Barbados, and he almost drove up a lamp post.   Ivan found out where Jean was staying and serenaded her under her window that evening.  The next morning he brought a friend along to make a formal introduction. Those were nice times.  He took Jean sailing and dancing.  After Jean had made several trips to Barbados, Ivan proposed to her at the Aquatic Club, which is where the Grand Barbados Hotel is located today. The jeweller gave Ivan a box of rings and Jean picked out one.  Ivan then had to prove himself to Jean’s parents especially as he was Catholic and Jean was Protestant.  Ivan and Jean eventually married in the Protestant church.

Ivan immigrated to Canada on the vessel “Lady Drake” and arrived at St. John, New Brunswick on June 6, 1939.  Ivan and Jean continued their courtship in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Ivan worked as a supervising clerk in the Credit department of the Simpson Sears Ltd.  The courtship progressed to a marriage in 1941, in St. Andrews United Church, Halifax.  Ivan was 25 and Jean 24.

Also in 1941, Ivan’s sister Hilda married Rupert “Clement” Wood in Trinidad.  What should have been a joyous event for Ivan was not.  Neither Ivan nor the rest of Hilda’s extended family really approved of the marriage.  Apparently it was known that Clement had a tendency to drink too much, as did most young men in Barbados during the era.

After Hilda’s marriage, Ivan would no longer talk to her.  Over time Ivan’s stance softened and they eventually maintained a keep in touch relationship.  When Hilda first came to Canada in about 1966, Ivan and his son Barrie travelled to Toronto to visit with Hilda.

Ivan and Jean’s first child, Edward “Ted” Francis Gittens was born March 28, 1942.  There is some conjecture that he was named after his grandfather Edwin Johnson Gittens.  What is worthy of note is that they both used the common short form for Edward and Edwin which is Ted.  Edward used the short form of Ted and his Grandfather was known as Teddy.

The War interrupted Ivan’s marriage.  On April 30, 1942, seven days after his 26th birthday, he enlisted in the Canadian Army in Halifax.   Ivan was classified as a Clerk Store man in the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps.  He was stationed in Halifax until 1943 when he was transferred to Infantry and shipped overseas.  This was just three months prior to the birth of Ivan’s second child, Barbara Jean Gittens, on June 18, 1943.  Jean, Ivan’s wife, suffered with bronchitis and was not supposed to have had any children.   Her health severely suffered after the birth of each of her children.  It was shortly after Barbara’s birth that Jean travelled to Boston where she had 1 ½ lobe of her lung taken out with the hope that the procedure would save the rest of her lung.  This kind of medical procedure was only possible through the financial support of Jean’s parents.

Ivan returned to Canada on June 7, 1945, after serving overseas in WWII for 26 months seeing action in England, Italy, France, Belgium and Holland.  He was awarded the Canadian Volunteer Services Medal and Clasp, the 1939-45 Star, Italy Star, France and Germany Star and Defence Medal acknowledging his active service in war zones.

Ivan was discharged July 16, 1945, to return to civilian life “on compassionate grounds”.  He was described in his discharge documentation as a “tall, slim, well-groomed, twenty-nine-year-old soldier.  He is quite alert, possesses a pleasant manner and is mature.  For two years prior to enlistment, he was employed by Robert Simpson Co, as a supervising credit clerk.  He has already made arrangements to resume last civil employment following discharge and doesn’t anticipate any difficulty in becoming re-established in civil life”.

Ivan was re-employed by Simpson Sears Ltd after his Army discharge and resumed his position of supervisor in the credit department.  Over the succeeding years with Simpson Sears Ivan was sent from one department to another to clean up financial messes… the term “troubleshooter” was not used during this time.   He was also a buyer for the departments he managed and made many buying trips to Montreal, where his brother Edgar lived.  It was always a very exciting time for Edgar’s family when Uncle Ivan was coming for a visit.

Ivan must have enjoyed his military experience as he re-enlisted in the Canadian Army Reserve Force, (Princess Fusiliers) on October 28, 1947.  The enlistment was for a three year term and he served at the rank of Quartermaster.

Ivan and his family continued to live in Halifax.  Ivan and Jean’s third child, William Alexander ”Barrie” Gittens was born June 24, 1946, in Halifax.

Jean’s bronchitis continued to impact her health.  She found the climate in Barbados much better for her bronchitis so she and her children lived off and on in Barbados from the time Ted was born until 1950.

In 1950, Ivan was transferred as a departmental manager to a new Simpson Sears Ltd. store which opened in Vancouver, British Columbia.   Jean and the children returned to Canada moving to Vancouver to join Ivan.    Shortly after the family’s arrival in Vancouver Jean became pregnant but lost quadruplets in 1951.  Jean’s health failed due to her bronchitis after losing the quadruplets.  She and the children again returned to Barbados where the climate improved her health.  Ivan remained working in Vancouver.  Jean and the children returned to Halifax in 1953 at which time Ivan was able to transfer with Simpson Sear’s Ltd. back to Halifax.   At the time Ted was 11, Barbara 10, and Barrie 7.  The family then remained in Halifax where the children finished their schooling.

Ivan had a great personality and was well-liked by everyone.  He was also a great mathematician.   His daughter Barbara said that “Dad often helped me solve a difficult math situation in Quantitative Chemistry.  Difficult Math Problems were a hobby of his.”  Ivan was an avid reader and was always improving himself.   Barbara remembers when her Dad joined the Toast Masters Public Speaking Club.  Barbara said” He would study hard for every speech.  He really should have gone to University.  If he had more money in his pocket, it is certain he would have achieved a great deal.  Getting married to my mother and having to provide for 3 children when the war was over, was extremely difficult.  Back to Toastmasters:  Ivan ultimately rose up in the ranks until he became President of the Toast Masters Club for the Eastern Seaboard.  Mom was ill so I went to the farewell party in Dad’s honour.  His family really didn’t know what he was doing with the Toast Masters as he never talked about these achievements at home.”

Ivan also loved to sail.  He and a friend had a 30-foot sailing boat called a Rouey which sailed out of the Armadale Yacht Club in Halifax.

In 1965, Ivan’s employment with Simpson Sears ended abruptly.  Ivan’s daughter Barbara recalled “It was a sad day for all.  I remember it well as I was writing my final exams at Dalhousie and he would pace back and forth all night long.  It was a difficult time for all of us. Ted was living with Nanny in Wolfville so he did not see it, but the rest of us sure felt it.   Dad took several jobs after that but not in the retail business. If several of us had not been going to University I think Dad may have started up something on his own. He would have been good at it.  He later worked for a Prefabricated Housing Company in Sales and did very well there, but never seemed to get too into it.  Maybe it was still hurtful to remember what some people did to him at Simpson’s.  He worked for the Prefab Housing Company until he retired, in about 1971.”

Ivan and Jean moved to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1965, shortly after Ivan left the employ of Sears.  They lived there for about 6 years before moving back to the Halifax area.

Ivan died November 6, 1980, in Etobicoke, Ontario following a rampant Cancer that killed him in three months.  Barbara had him come up to Toronto for another consultation, but they only confirmed the inevitable.  He died on his granddaughter, Jessica’s second birthday, at about 2:00 pm, he was 64 years old.

Following Ivan’s death Jean stayed in the Toronto area and lived with her daughter Barbara.  Jean regularly returned to Nova Scotia to visit with her son Barrie and his family often staying for months at a time.  Her daughter-in-law Rosanne said that Jean was a wonderful person and the family really enjoyed the visits.  It was because of these visits that Jean’s two grandsons really got to know their grandmother.   The grandsons to this day have very fond memories of their grandmother.

Jean died in February 1996, at age 78.  She was buried alongside Ivan in the Riverside Cemetery in Etobicoke, Ontario.

The children of Ivan and Jean:

1.      Edward “Ted” Frances Gittens married Sandra Judie McCabe in 1965.    They have two sons Andrew Edward McCabe Gittens and James Alexander Gray Gittens.  Tragically, Ted died in a private airplane accident in 1972.  Sandra raised the two boys and never remarried.

2.      Barbara Jean Gittens married  Gotham Clements in 1970 and they lived in Ontario.  They have two children, Scott Charles Edward Clements and Jessica Barbara Jean Clements.  Barbara is now divorced and resides in Toronto, Ontario.

3.      William Alexander “Barrie” Gittens married Rosanne Deveau in Halifax in 1971.  They have two children, Michael Allen Gittens and Mark Ryan Gittens.  Barrie and Rosanne live in Nova Scotia.

Authors Note:  This sketch of Ivan’s life was made possible with significant contributions from Ivan’s daughter Barbara Clements who lives in Toronto and Paul Foster who lives in Barbados. 

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