The Man from Winnipeg’s North End
By George Siamandas
Abe Heaps the man from Winnipeg’s north end is responsible for Canada’s Social legislation like Unemployment Insurance. Today the only reminder of AA Heaps contributions is in the name of the old bank of Nova Scotia Building located at Portage and Garry. Heaps had been born in Leeds on December 24, 1885, of Jewish parents that had fled Russian Poland. He was educated till age 13 at which time he quit to become an upholsterer’s apprentice. He came to Winnipeg, where he became an upholsterer in the railway shops. There he became friends with John Blumberg, and John Queen and active in the union movement.
HEAPS ENTERS CIVIC POLITICS
Heaps was a pacifist and was against conscription during WW1. A popular well read man, Heaps won a civic seat in 1916 after an earlier attempt against another Jewish candidate who had won in 1915 by rigging the election. Heaps wanted to see industry bargain with the unions and was jailed and tried for treason after the 1919 strike. Heaps provided his own reasoned defence. He was not a member of the strike committee and in fact had been too busy as a councillor and working on the civic relief committee where he saw 100 people a day.
Heaps won a federal seat in 1925 and became an advocate for social reform measures like unemployment insurance, openness to refugees, old age pensions, public ownership of public services and abolition of the Senate. Heaps was not an adversarial or fierce person. He was a man of quiet, fact-filled speeches and as a result he made many friends in govt, not the least of whom was Mackenzie King.
THE PRIME MINISTER’S CHAIR
One day in 1927 while visiting King, the prime Minister pointed to a ratty scratched up old chair and told Heaps it had been Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s chair. Heaps offered to take it away and repair it. He returned it, newly upholstered in black leather with its wooden frame refinished. King was thrilled and the chair remains today in the parliamentary museum.
AN ADVOCATE FOR JEWISH REFUGEES
Heaps was an advocate for Jewish refugees in the late thirties and during WW2. He found King to be a total disappointment and suspected his govt was anti Semitic. One of King’s immigration advisors said that none were too many.
I the 1930s Heaps was an advocate for federal aid to the municipalities that were suffering from the depression. With RB Bennett in power there was little progress under the control of the man some called the “Iron Heel.”
WHAT HAPPENED TO HEAPS
Heaps wife and 2 sons began to winter in California. His wife died of a malignancy at age 49. Heaps lost in the 1940 election. After politics he pursued a fine arts interest but later took a job in labour relations in Montreal. He remarried. In 1954 he went home to Leeds and suffered a heart attack on April 4. City council sent its condolences. In 1988 an NDP govt chose to recognise the contributions of this quiet reasonable socialist who had been called a “servile capitalist lackey” by some of his own people and renamed the rehabilitated Bank of Nova Scotia in his honour. Abe Heaps died on April 4, 1954.