“I ended up talking his ear off about civil rights,” Danny said.
In the summer of 1966, the Heaps decided to drive to Nova Scotia in a $400 used Ford truck. Though the tires blew out along the way, the road trip was filled with fun and family renditions of tunes by Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson, Mr. Heap’s favourites.
Inspired by his daughter Susan, Mr. Heap decided in 1968 to run for the NDP in the federal riding of Spadina, but lost. He tried for a provincial seat in 1971, losing again.
Undeterred, Mr. Heap ran for Toronto city council in Ward 6 the following year, and won. He spent nine years on council advocating for issues that affected his constituents, from holding to account a battery-crushing company that left lead in the soil of one neighbourhood, to campaigning against the construction of the planned north-south Spadina expressway.
Mr. and Ms. Heap took their children to protests and discussed political ideas with them at the communal home they shared with youth from the SCM and other families.
The Heaps were “ruthless organizers,” said Ellie Kirzner, an activist who worked closely with the family. “[Y]ou’d better make those phone calls, organize that meeting, because the poor of the world couldn’t wait and wars were raging.”
The couple sold the home in the late 1980s to an organization that houses refugees.
“Don and Alice are really the end of an era of the social gospel left in Canada,” said Michael Valpy, a former Globe and Mail columnist who knew the Heaps. The family were also ardent members of downtown Toronto’s Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity.
For Mr. Heap’s daughter Margaret, who said the biggest lesson her dad taught her was not to cross a picket line, tagging along with dad to protests was more a blessing than a curse.
“We were never forced to do any of this – it was that we were allowed to,” Margaret said.
There was also little separation between politics and fun. A nature lover, Mr. Heap took the family camping, canoeing and hiking.
“He loved following streams back to their source, which I [later] saw as a metaphor for getting to the root of things,” Margaret said.
Still, Mr. Heap had a short temper and was known to “blow up” at times, although he was quick to apologize.
In 1981, Mr. Heap decided bigger issues such as housing, war and refugees needed his attention, so he turned again to federal politics. When Pierre Trudeau appointed Spadina MP Peter Stollery to the Senate to open a seat for aide Jim Coutts, Mr. Heap ran on the NDP ticket and won by 214 votes.
“He worked his heart out,” said friend Abraham Blank, who was Mr. Heap’s executive assistant during his Toronto city council years.
Mr. Heap settled quickly into federal politics, and was re-elected in 1984 and 1988. Officially, he served as the NDP’s housing and immigration critic, but used his position to speak out against missile testing, led opposition to Canadian participation in the first Gulf War – a battle he ultimately lost – and urged Canada to leave NATO.
When Mr. Heap retired in 1993, he devoted more time to activism. He saw himself as a “revolutionary,” son David said, adding that his father wanted to create “heaven on Earth.” Throughout his life, Mr. Heap was arrested at least four times, including once being dragged, limp, by police from a May Day rally in 1996.
He also threw himself on the front lines of fighting homelessness in Toronto, helping found the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee in 1998. One of the group’s first actions was helping homeless people and activists set up a “tent city” on Toronto’s waterfront. Mr. Heap joined the group regularly, often riding his bike during frigid winter nights to attend.
“He wasn’t just a name on our letterhead,” said Cathy Crowe, co-founder of the committee.
Mr. Heap suffered his second heart attack in 2005 (a decade after his first). That same year he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He and his wife moved into a private retirement home in 2009, but by 2011 were facing eviction due to concerns from management that the couple, both with medical issues, had become too difficult to care for.
The couple was accepted to Kensington Gardens retirement home, however, where his wife died of pneumonia in 2012. In his final year of life, Mr. Heap still remembered the words to his favourite protest songs, said Ms. Crowe, who visited him often. They sang together and she read him political news, to which he appeared connected even near death.
“He knew right from wrong,” Ms. Crowe said.
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