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Remembering Alice Heap (1925–2012)

April 12th, 2012 · No Comments

Alice and Dan Heap had this photo taken for Dan's Holiday season householder in 1993. They stand on the porch of their home at 29 Wales Ave. in Kensington Market. Courtesy David Smiley

By Lee Zaslofsky

On March 24, just as the NDP was choosing its new Leader, Alice Heap passed away. I learned of it on Facebook, from a short message posted by her son, David.

Alice Heap was married to Dan Heap, who represented Downtown Toronto at City Hall and then in Ottawa as the NDP Member of Parliament for Spadina (now Trinity-Spadina).

Her death saddened all who knew her through her incredible range of activism for social justice, peace, women’s rights; at Holy Trinity Anglican Church; and as a Co-Op Housing Coordinator.

Alice and Dan could be called a “power couple”, though their power grew out of their commitment to the ideals for which they worked together throughout their lives. Dan relied on Alice for support and understanding, certainly. But, Alice was also his most efficient organizer, best political fundraiser, and his unfailing source of principled, savvy counsel on the many issues he had to confront in his long political career.

Dan and Alice were the first of three “power couples” who, beginning in the late 1960s, and continuing until August last year, led and fostered the community activism and progressive politics that have become the hallmark of our way of doing politics in downtown Toronto.

Alice’s and Dan’s home at 29 Wales Ave. in Kensington Market became a focal point of activism when Dan made his first run for office as NDP candidate in Spadina in 1968. He won that nomination by defeating Paul Copeland—now a leading human rights lawyer. But he lost the election to Liberal Peter Stollery in the wave of Trudeaumania that swept the country that year. Dan ran again in 1971, this time as the NDP provincial candidate for St. Andrew-St. Patrick. In a hard—and Dan thought unfairly—fought election, he was defeated by PC Cabinet Minister Allan Grossman, who had snatched the riding in the 1950s from J.B. Salsberg, a Communist.

Dan ran for City Council the next year. This time, he won. I remember his triumphant promise at his victory party: “We’re going to organize the ward!” He didn’t just mean organize to win elections. He meant organize to build active, democratic participation by residents.

Alice and Dan shared a commitment to socialism—not “big government”—but real democracy that goes beyond elections and becomes part of the fabric of everyday life. Democracy that starts with neighbourhood issues, and grows to include issues that affect the whole city, the whole country. Participation that makes it possible for working people to have a powerful influence on their communities, on their governments.

In those days, each ward had two aldermen. Dan was paired with Bill Archer, an independent-minded Conservative. Dan and Bill got along personally, but politically not at all.

About that time another couple began to be involved in community activism. Allan and Susan Sparrow were progressive, brilliant, and committed to much the same agenda as Alice and Dan Heap. Allan and Sue, along with many others, formed the Ward 6 Community Organization.

The W6CO shared Alice and Dan’s commitment to community activism, though they were not members of a political party. The 1974 election was coming up, and Allan suggested that W6CO nominate a full slate of candidates: two for alderman, two for school trustee. The idea was that this way, Dan’s “second votes” wouldn’t go to Bill Archer, but to a like-minded candidate.

In 1974, the W6CO ran a full slate: Dan Heap and Allan Sparrow for alderman; Dan Leckie and Bob Spencer for trustee. All of them won. The two “power couples,” Alice and Dan, Sue and Allan, worked well together—the Heaps in the western part of the ward; the Sparrows in the east. They joined with the progressives on City Council, led by Mayor David Crombie, and began an era of creative, progressive, activist government that many now remember as almost a Golden Age when the City stopped kowtowing to developers and started listening to residents.

The two power couples continued their cooperation through three elections, until Allan Sparrow decided to step aside. Please don’t get the idea that these couples went around telling everybody what to do. Their power was as catalysts, teachers, fellow activists.

In 1980, with Allan stepping down, W6CO needed a candidate to run alongside Dan Heap. We ran a full scale nomination process. Two men came forward to seek our endorsement. George Hislop, a longtime activist in the gay community, and a young professor of political science at Ryerson, Jack Layton. It was a hard fought nomination battle. Each contender signed up hundreds of new members. The meeting was held at City Hall. George Hislop, who wanted to be the first openly gay politician ever elected in Canada, won the nomination. Despite a strong campaign Hislop lost the election to Gordon Chong, a Conservative.

In 1981, Prime Minister Trudeau decided to kick Spadina MP Peter Stollery upstairs to the Senate to clear the way for his closest advisor, Jim Coutts to run for Parliament in the “safe” Liberal riding of Spadina in a by-election. He reckoned without Alice and Dan Heap and their years of work in building an active community with progressive values. In 1981, Dan was the NDP federal candidate in Spadina once again. On the slogan “Let’s Put the Boots to Coutts,” and with Alice’s organizing at full throttle, that’s exactly what he did. Dan Heap became MP for Spadina. He was reelected in 1984 and 1988.

Now we had a problem: who to run to replace Dan Heap, and who to fill the second spot on the slate. Jack Layton came forward again. His running mate, chosen after a hard-fought nomination battle with labour activist Winnie Ng, was tenant leader Dale Martin. This time, Gordon Chong was sent packing, and downtown Toronto again had a full slate of, by now, NDP aldermen and trustees.

Jack Layton and Dale Martin won again in 1985 (now terms were of 3 years). On the Trustee side, there were two women: Joan Doiron, a dedicated community activist who had been elected in 1982; and Olivia Chow, Dan Heap’s former constituency assistant (with Dan Leckie). A new Power Couple was about to be formed.

Jack and Olivia had a lot in common, politically at first, then in so many other ways. Both full of energy, both committed to the kind of politics Alice and Dan Heap had brought to downtown Toronto, both brilliant and charismatic. At City Hall, Jack added Dan Leckie—also brilliant and deeply committed to community activism—to his office team. The three of them were very close, each bringing complementary gifts and a Heap-like commitment to their activism. Later, when Dale Martin decided not to seek re-election to Council, Olivia replaced him on the slate, and Jack and Olivia served together on Metro Council.

This third Power Couple, Jack and Olivia, lost their dearest friend and counsellor, Dan Leckie, when Dan died suddenly and prematurely. So Dan was not around when Jack moved over to represent Toronto-Danforth on City Council; and then to represent it in Parliament. He wasn’t around to see Olivia elected to Parliament, to serve again alongside Jack.

Last August, this third couple was dissolved by Jack’s untimely death. Allan Sparrow had died several years before, after putting his activism to work trying to stop the Island Airport from expanding as one of the leaders of Community Air. On Mar. 24, the first of our power couples was dissolved, this time by the death of Alice Heap—mother, grandmother, organizer, teacher, example, and friend to so many people.

Alice and Dan Heap laid the foundation of an approach to community and politics that joined activism, democracy, compassion, and principle. Or, to put it in Jack’s words “Love, Hope, and Optimism.” All of us in downtown Toronto have benefited by their commitment, and their love for each other and for us, their neighbours. Let’s be sure to keep that legacy alive and growing. Or, as I’m sure Alice would say “Don’t mourn for me. Organize.”

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