The indispensable Heaps

A beautiful sunny day in midtown Toronto,right off the Kensington market and here we were happily celebrating the extraordinary Christian lives of Dan and Alice Heap.

Kudos to Heritage Toronto to have the brains and talent to marshall this one through.

alicea

The Heap home at 29 Wales was indeed a boiler room for progressive causes of all kinds. And make no mistake about it. You could not talk about the Heaps without acknowledging their formidable partnership.The plaque unveiled was a helluva précis on the couples’ life.it touched all the basesHousing, Co-ops, Social Justice activity of all kinds.Heritage Toronto as a secular institution focussed on their trade union advocacy,community organizing, socialism ant anti-war activity.

 

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For those of us who knew them, they were fired by the gospel of liberative social justice. Both were grads of the Student Christian Movement then an almost totally Protestant organization one which produced so many great Canadian Christian activists, largely United Church and Anglican.Two of the more notable ones, though there were dozens i could name, were Anglican primate Ted Scott and United Church Moderator Lois Wilson. Both Alice and Dan were longtime parishioners at Holy Trinity the dynamic Anglican parish nestled next to the belly of the beast, that shrine to consumerism, Eaton Centre.I was privileged  to be present there at Dan’s final eucharist just before his mind would be enveloped by darkness.
Dan was elected three times in the 80s as the NDP member from Spadina. Once I called him late at night in Ottawa  when that apostle for peace Phil Berrigan was held in the West Detention Centre barred from entering Canada. One call to Dan and the nervous feds let him in. What a strange country this is sometimes —no problem welcoming war criminals like Henry Kissinger in but keeping out for gospel proponents of peace.
One could not think while listening to son David Heap’s welcoming remarks about the latest government misstep giving $60 billion to Defense as social housing goes begging.
The following story from the Toronto Star (October 19, 2011) tells of my own initial meeting with this extraordinary Christian in the mid 70’s.

 

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Ted Schmidt with some of his students at Neil McNeil Catholic High School, circa 1981.

Heap’s legacy: Life lessons off the basketball court
By LAURIE MONSEBRAATEN Social Justice Reporter

Former alderman Dan Heap inspired a coach to cancel practice and take the team to a rally for exploited grape workers.

 

Ted Schmidt with some of his students at Neil McNeil Catholic High School, circa 1981. Schmidt’s understanding of Christian social justice, which he tried to transmit to students, was inspired and shaped by Dan Heap’s example.

 

On Saturday, the Star published a story about former MP Dan Heap and the obstacles his family faced trying to get him suitable care. Since it appeared, we have been overwhelmed with anecdotes about how Heap touched readers’ lives. Each day this week, we’re featuring one of them. Today, former Toronto high school teacher Ted Schmidt.

Dan Heap brought his passion for social justice to Toronto city hall as an alderman from 1972 to 1981, where he connected local residents to global issues such as the plight of Mexican grape workers in California.

Ted Schmidt, a former religion teacher and basketball coach at Neil McNeil Catholic High School, was one of many who heard Heap’s call to action one day in 1974.

Cesar Chavez spoke for the exploited workers in California and Heap, who was holding a rally for the cause in Nathan Phillips Square, was their voice in Toronto, Schmidt recalls.

“I called off practice that day. . . I told my players that we had bigger fish to fry. People were in trouble and needed our help,” he says.

Schmidt, who grew up in Spadina, the riding Heap later represented in Parliament from 1981 to 1993, had never met Heap, an Anglican priest and former factory worker. But he was impressed by Heap’s “brave public witness.”

“I well remembered the then clean-shaven Heap picketing his own Anglican Church House at the height of the Vietnam War in 1966,” Schmidt says. “He was demanding that the church who spoke in the name of Jesus speak louder on behalf of the pulverized civilians of Vietnam.”

When Schmidt brought his basketball team to the rally, he introduced himself to Heap and told him how much he admired his defence of the voiceless.

Here was a city councillor who was the incarnation of all the values we teach as a Catholic high school. It was important for my students to see that,” says Schmidt, 72, and now editor of the New Catholic Times, a bi-weekly online newsletter for social justice.
Over the years, Schmidt became friends with Heap and his wife, Alice. Later, when Schmidt was teaching courses to Catholic teachers, he invited Heap to speak to them about the role of the Christian in society.

“I had no real mentors in the 1960s in the public sphere,” he says. “Dan was the first.”
Watching this lovely event evolve and scanning the crowd I could not help but think how almost irrelevant the local Catholic church has become in the social sphere. As the glow of the great Council fades, we will find so few prelates engaged in the struggle for a more just world. There will be Christmas baskets and parish centred picnics but from the top down there will be little deep civic engagement and virtually little ecclesial leadership in the great social causes of our world.

 
In time the church will grow smaller and probably lay led. Inevitably there will be great people like Dan and Alice rise up. There will always be gospel dreamers singing, as we did on Saturday, that great 60s anthem:

 

Last night I had the strangest dream i ever had before
I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war

Bertolt Brecht could easily been thinking of Dan and Alice when he penned these lines in The Mother(1930)

There are those who struggle for a day and they are good.
There are those who struggle for a year and they are better.
There are those who struggle many years, and they are better still.
But there are those who struggle all their lives: these are the indispensable ones.
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1 Comment »

  1. 1
    mushafta Says:

    This is a great story Ted! What inspiring stuff you continue to pour out! God only knows where you get all this energy.

    We’re dealing with a narcistic world led by Trump et alii. We need more Dan Heaps and Ted Schmidts!


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