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Alice Mildred Heap Add to ...

Peace activist, socialist organizer, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother. Born July 20, 1925, in Saint-Paul-d’Abbotsford, Que., died March 24, 2012, in Toronto from complications following pneumonia, aged 86.

When a visiting evangelical minister unsuspectingly preached that Heaven was like Toronto's Massey Hall, with limited seating for early reservations, young Alice, no more than 10, spoke up to disagree: She didn't know Toronto or Massey Hall, but she knew her theology, and that the Kingdom of Heaven must have room for all.

Speaking truth to power was to become a lifelong habit. In 1950 she was honoured for her peace and labour organizing by being banned from the United States for four decades (which didn’t stop her from travelling there for unauthorized political, religious and social visits).

Alice combined long-term goals such as heaven and socialism with short- and medium-term needs such as organizing supper, childcare and dishes through a kind of radical hospitality of stunning proportions (at times on a factory worker’s wages).

She moved seven kids, two adults and a dog three times between 1966 and 1968, the last time during the final days of dad's first election campaign. She worked full-time outside the home as well, and found time somehow to volunteer for grassroots organizations. Just last fall, family and friends occupied our parents’ retirement residence for 25 days in order to make sure they got the care and shelter to which they had right, in keeping with mum’s tradition of radical hospitality.

Our home was never empty. At various times it included our grandmother, two uncles, long-time boarders, friends and partners of us kids, Student Christian Movement work-campers, farm-worker organizers, Vietnam War resisters, and others needing shelter.

In addition, we'd often wake up to find strangers camping informally on couches (our front door was never locked). Alice greeted everyone with her standard “what do you want for breakfast?” Those who appeared to be sleeping together with intent might get a matter-of-fact follow-up question about contraception.

Mummy loved lots of conversation, and before her hearing deteriorated she undertook to pass on the habit of taking part in two or three at once. If you couldn't keep up with her whirlwind of logical moral conclusions, she could slow down – momentarily. She called one Saturday morning to ask for the mail to be picked up for four weeks. Why? They were on the way to El Salvador. But, there's a civil war going on there – artillery barrages! Mum patiently explained: That's why we're going, and yes, please water the plants too.

Her radical hospitality scaled up from home to grassroots work at Toronto’s Holy Trinity Church on behalf of the homeless, and to campaigning for affordable housing, jobs and peace. A lifelong pillar of the NDP, she was the indispensable adviser and comrade of her husband Don (Dan Heap) during his quarter-century in electoral politics.

Danny and David Heap are sons of Alice.

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