Friday, May 2, 2014
Quebec Anglican Priest, MP and Social Justice Crusader Dan Heap Dead at 88
Dan Heap’s lifetime crusade for peace and social justice live on in the people he touched and the policies he helped change, say family and friends.
The former Toronto alderman, NDP MP and social justice advocate died Friday. He was 88.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath remembered Heap as “a man of conviction who fiercely fought against injustice.
“He worked hard to make the city and country he loved a better place. He was a friend to many and a crusader for all,” she said in a statement.
Heap, who was known as “Don” to his friends and family, was born in Winnipeg and educated at Queen’s and McGill Universities. He began his career as an Anglican parish priest in western Quebec, but moved to Toronto in 1954 to work in a cardboard box factory to “bring socialism to the Canadian worker,” he told the Star in 2011.
“We knew him as an industrial worker who was absolutely committed to figuring out how the working class could find their rightful place in history,” his son Danny said Saturday. “You couldn’t untangle the Christianity piece from the socialist piece.”
After several failed attempts at public office, Heap was elected to Toronto city council in 1972. He jumped to federal politics in 1981 after winning a byelection for the NDP in the old riding of Spadina. He served in Ottawa for 12 years.
Throughout their lives, Heap and his wife Alice, who died in 2012, were fervent peace activists who fought for the rights of refugees and aboriginals and campaigned against poverty and homelessness.
The family’s Kensington Market home was a hotbed of student activism around the anti-war, anti-apartheid and social housing movements of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, said Danny, 57. Protest marches, sit-ins and picket lines were regular family outings that occasionally resulted in Heap’s arrest. However, Heap was only charged once.
In Oct. 1973, when Heap was an alderman, he joined a mass picket to support the mostly immigrant women workers at the Artistic Woodwork plant in North York where the company was bringing in replacement workers to crush a long and bitter strike. Heap was arrested during a scuffle and charged with assault and obstruction of police. He was acquitted when the judge found it was the police who were roughing up the pickets, Danny recalled.
“Don Heap was a heroic Canadian figure,” said street outreach worker Beric German. “Sometimes he led us, sometimes he was right beside us, and often in his older age he watched our back.”
In the early 1980s Heap helped found the Housing Not Hostels Coalition that resulted in the first provincial housing subsidies for homeless single people. In the late 1990s he co-founded the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee that prompted Ottawa to appoint its first minister responsible for fighting homelessness.
“There are many monuments to our local hero,” German said. “They often come in the form of people living a better and more dignified life.”
Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow, who worked in Heap’s federal constituency office in the early 1980s, mourned the loss of her “political mentor.”
“He was a man of faith, of God and justice and peace,” she said in an interview Saturday. “After seeing his example, I got inspired to think maybe I, too, can make a difference.” Chow was elected school trustee for the area in 1985 and then followed in Heap’s footsteps becoming city councillor and then MP.
A single mother whom Heap helped get daycare in the 1980s, left welfare and went on to teach nursing at George Brown College. As thanks, Nadira Fraser last year set up the “Dan and Alice Heap Bursary” to help single parents study nursing.
“I remember his act of help and kindness to me many years ago,” Fraser said. “In my personal and professional life teaching new nurses, and in my family, whose lives he shaped, I will always keep alive his values of compassion and social justice.”
When Heap retired from politics in 1993, he and his wife sold their Kensington Market home at a fraction of its market value to Homes First Society, an organization that provides housing for refugees.
Heap suffered a heart attack and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2005.
After their health deteriorated, he and Alice had trouble accessing long-term care and were forced to move to a retirement home in 2009, where they paid up to $10,000 a month. After Heap reportedly wandered into another resident’s room in 2011, the retirement home called police and the couple faced eviction before the family agreed to provide 24-hour supervision. The Heaps moved into Kensington Gardens long-term care home less than a month later.
Heap’s family hired street nurse and longtime friend Cathy Crowe as his “political companion” after Alice died. She visited about three times a week to talk with him about the news and help him remember his work.
“It was quite an honour to be in that role,” Crowe said. “When I would remind him of some of his political crusades he would say: ‘Did I really do that?’”
The couple’s seven children were with Heap during his final days last week at Kensington Gardens where they shared stories and sang along to recordings of protest singers Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson, their father’s favourites, Danny said.
“Throughout his life he expressed his politics quite often through a sing-song,” he said. “That’s going to be definitely part of remembering him.”
Heap is also survived by 17 grandchildren.
A funeral mass and memorial service will be held Sun. May 4 at Church of the Holy Trinity at 2 pm, with a sing-song to follow.
Source: The Toronto Star