Dan Heap’s life goal was nothing less than to create heaven on Earth.
A lifelong socialist devoted to helping working-class people, refugees and the homeless, Mr. Heap made career choices, first as a Toronto city councillor and then as an NDP parliamentarian, based not on building his own stature but on building a more just society.
Devoutly religious and committed to pacifism, minority rights and social justice, he believed in an egalitarian society free of capitalism. A slender man with a white beard, messy hair and large, sometimes taped-together eyeglasses, Mr. Heap rode a bicycle around Toronto, sheltered Vietnam War resisters in his home, marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. and was a regular at demonstrations across Canada.
Mr. Heap, who was ordained as an Anglican priest and spent 18 years labouring in a Toronto paper-box factory before entering politics, believed in the intersection of faith and justice.
After being elected to Parliament in 1981, Mr. Heap worked to reunite refugees with family members and advocated for redress for Chinese immigrants penalized by a head tax until 1923. He did so with the help of his young constituency assistant, Olivia Chow, who called Mr. Heap “a man of faith and action.”
Mr. Heap died in Toronto on April 25 at 88.
“I think for any progressive activist in the 1980s, Dan Heap was a seminal figure,” said Toronto area NDP MP Andrew Cash, who voted for Mr. Heap in 1981.
“He was slightly terrifying because he was so real and so committed.”
Daniel James Macdonnell Heap was born Sept. 24, 1925, in Winnipeg, the second-eldest of four children. His mother, Margaret, was a piano teacher and his father, Fred, a lawyer. Raised as a Presbyterian, Mr. Heap grew up sympathizing with marginalized people, a trait inherited from his parents, who told him when he was six that the family was boycotting Japanese oranges to protest the invasion of Manchuria in 1931. Sometimes called “Don,” after his grandfather, a minister, Mr. Heap aspired to become a minister himself from a young age, he told The Globe and Mail in 1981. Called “Don” after his grandfather, a minister, Mr. Heap aspired to become a minister himself from a young age, he told The Globe in 1981.
He received a scholarship to study at Upper Canada College and later studied classics and philosophy at Queen’s University. It was during his time at Queen’s that Mr. Heap, horrified by nazism, decided to put his pacifism aside and sign up for the army.
“It wasn’t possible to be neutral in the face of Hitler,” he told The Globe.
But before Mr. Heap could be sent overseas, the war ended, and he embarked on his lifetime commitment to pacifism. In 1945, Mr. Heap took a summer job at a Brantford, Ont., knitting mill that would change his life. While in the community, Mr. Heap met other workers who were part of the Student Christian Movement, a powerful youth group that organized socialist work camps.
The experience “opened my eyes to a side of life I’d never seen before,” he told The Globe.
Mr. Heap went on to study theology for a year at the University of Chicago before moving to Montreal to get his divinity degree from McGill University. It was there that Mr. Heap joined anti-war and pro-human-rights groups and met Alice Boomhour, a minister’s daughter and SCM activist with whom he fell in love and married in 1950.
“They were very much an entity,” their son Danny said of his parents, who attended protests together. They soon started a family, and had seven children between 1951 and 1966. After graduating from McGill and being ordained a priest, Mr. Heap was determined to pair preaching and activism, but after a brief stint in rural Quebec as a priest, he decided he would not make a living working for the church.
Danny said that while Mr. Heap saw religious faith and radical social activism as a pair, “the church hierarchy did not take kindly to that.”
So Mr. Heap decided to align himself with the worker-priest movement, a missionary initiative started in 1941 by the French Catholic Church that saw priests enter the work force to persuade laymen to become more engaged in church life. When Mr. Heap and his family moved to Toronto in 1954, he took a job as a printer at a box factory, where he was elected as a union representative.
He wanted to “bring socialism to the Canadian worker,” he told the Toronto Star in 2011.
In 1965, Mr. Heap went to march with Martin Luther King Jr. at Montgomery, Ala., in support of the civil-rights movement. The rest of his family took part in a sit-in in support of the march in Toronto. When a police officer saw Danny, then eight years old, at the sit-in, he skeptically asked him what he was doing there.
Follow us on Twitter: