Open main menu

Peter Heenan, PC (February 19, 1875 – May 12, 1948) was a Canadian union leader and politician, and also served as a cabinet minister at the federal and provincial levels.

Peter Heenan

Peter Heenan LAC.jpg
MPP for Kenora
In office
October 20, 1919 – October 18, 1926
Preceded byHarold Machin
Succeeded byJoseph Earngey
Member of Parliament for Kenora—Rainy River
In office
October 29, 1925 – July 3, 1934
Preceded byNew riding
Succeeded byHugh Bathgate McKinnon
MPP for Kenora
In office
August 7, 1934 – June 30, 1943
Preceded byEarl Hutchinson
Succeeded byWilliam Manson Docker
Minister of Labour for Canada
In office
September 25, 1926 – August 7, 1930
Preceded byGeorge Burpee Jones
Succeeded byGideon Decker Robertson
Minister of Lands and Forests for Ontario
In office
July 10, 1934 – May 27, 1941
Preceded byWilliam Finlayson
Succeeded byNorman Otto Hipel
Minister of Labour for Ontario
In office
June 14, 1938 – September 2, 1938
Preceded byMorrison Mann MacBride
Succeeded byNorman Otto Hipel
Minister of Labour for Ontario
In office
May 27, 1941 – August 17, 1943
Preceded byNorman Otto Hipel
Succeeded byCharles Daley
Personal details
Born(1875-02-19)February 19, 1875
Tullaree, near Newcastle, County Down, Ireland
DiedMay 12, 1948(1948-05-12) (aged 73)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Political partyLabour Party of Canada (to 1926)
Liberal Party of Canada
Ontario Liberal Party
Spouse(s)Annie Fawcett
Professioncoal miner, diver, locomotive engineer, union leader

Early lifeEdit

Born in Tullaree, near Newcastle, County Down, Ireland,[1] Heenan worked as a pit boy at St Helen's Colliery in Cumberland, where he tested work on the mine's railways, and then worked on the Costa Rica Railway in Central America.[2] An attack of yellow fever forced Heenan to move to Canada in 1902, where he first worked on a Western ranch, and then as a locomotive engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railway on the run between Winnipeg and Kenora.[2] The experience he had acquired in Costa Rica as a diver also proved useful when he was called to help out in a train wreck just outside Kenora, where the locomotive had plunged down underwater.[2]

Heenan became involved in the labour movement in Northwestern Ontario, becoming its most prominent leader by the beginning of World War I.[3] He also became an alderman on Kenora's town council, serving for five years, and was also chairman of the local public utilities commission for two years.[2]

Political careerEdit

Labour MPP in Ontario (1919-1926)Edit

Elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as the Labour candidate for the riding of Kenora in the 1919 election, Heenan was re-elected in 1923. When the Legislature was not in session, he would resume driving locomotives.[2]

Under Heenan's leadership, the Labour MPPs joined with the United Farmers of Ontario to form a coalition government under E.C. Drury, with the understanding that Drury would support Edward Wellington Backus' plans for erecting a newsprint mill in Kenora.[3] Heenan was also instrumental in getting Harry Mills appointed as the Province's first Minister of Mines.[4]

Liberal MP and federal Minister of Labour (1926-1934)Edit

He was elected as the Liberal candidate to the House of Commons of Canada representing the riding of Kenora—Rainy River in the 1925 federal election. He was re-elected in 1926 and 1930. From 1926 to 1930, he was the Minister of Labour, and became known as "Peter the Peacemaker" for settling 160 labour disputes in his first three years.[2] He secured the passage of the Mother's Allowance Act and the Old Age Pensions Act.[5]

Heenan still found time to work as a locomotive engineer when the House was not in session.[6] In 1934, during a debate, he exclaimed, "I wanted to be unique. I wanted to be the only man that the Conservatives have put into overalls."[7]

Liberal MPP and Ontario Cabinet Minister (1934-1943)Edit

Heenan resigned his federal seat, after winning a provincial seat as the Liberal Party of Ontario candidate in the 1934 election for the riding of Kenora. He was re-elected in 1937. From 1934 to 1941, he was the Minister of Lands and Forests in the provincial government of Mitchell Hepburn. Heenan was charged with promoting Hepburn's policies on natural resource development, including the aggressive position with respect to timber licenses in Northern Ontario that were being held by companies that would not (or could not) cut wood on them. In that regard, in 1936 the Forest Resources Regulation Act was passed that granted the government broad powers for mandating minimum production quotas, maximum limits in line with good forestry practice, reducing licensed acreages where they were in excess of requirements, and increasing stumpage fees on companies "operating or carrying on business in a manner detrimental to the public interest."[8] Great Lakes Paper saw its holdings reduced from 23,085 square kilometres (5,704,000 acres) to 3,668 square kilometres (906,000 acres), and was assessed a $500,000 penalty ($9,000,000 in current terms) for refusing to participate in a minimum price agreement set up by the Ontario and Quebec governments.[9]

He also sought to exploit other uses for provincial lands. In 1941, he announced that one-seventh of all Crown land, amounting to 2,000,000 acres (8,100 km2), was being made available for lease to individuals, sportsmen's clubs and commercial camp owners.[10]

The 1938 collapse of the Lake Sulphite Pulp Company's operation at Red Rock[11] led to Opposition charges of ineptness in the policies of the Department of Lands and Forests. Following hearings by a legislative committee in the matter, Heenan and his deputy minister tendered their resignations.[12] He was subsequently appointed as provincial Minister of Labour.

Heenan took good care of his constituents' interests, and arranged for many improvements for Northwestern Ontario, including the construction of the Heenan Highway (now Highway 71) to serve Kenora and Rainy River.[5]

Further readingEdit

  • Mark Kuhlberg (2005). "'eyes wide open': E. W. Backus and The Pitfalls of Investing in Ontario's Pulp and Paper Industry, 1902-1932". Journal of the Canadian Historical Association. Canadian Historical Association. 16 (1): 201–233. Retrieved October 10, 2013.


  1. ^ "Striking Life Romance From Colliery Boy to Can. Cabinet". The Journal of Commerce. Montreal. July 28, 1928. Retrieved October 10, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Miner to Cabinet Minister, Hon. Peter Heenan, 72, Dies". Toronto Daily Star. May 13, 1948. p. 4.
  3. ^ a b Kuhlberg 2005, p. 216.
  4. ^ Michael S. Beaulieu (2009). "Reacting to the Worker's Revolt: The Lakehead and Winnipeg General Strike". Left History. York University. 14 (1): 25. Retrieved October 10, 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Highway Officially Opened By Premier M.F. Hepburn Named 'Heenan Highway'". Fort Frances Times and Rainy Lake Herald. July 2, 1936.
  6. ^ "Hon. Peter Heenan To Don Overalls". Montreal Gazette. June 22, 1932. p. 11.
  7. ^ "Hon. Peter Heenan As Only Man Govt. Put Into Overalls". Ottawa Citizen. February 22, 1934. p. 3.
  8. ^ The Forest Resources Regulation Act, 1936, S.O. 1936, c. 22
  9. ^ A. Ernest Epp (2000). "12: Ontario Forests and Forest Policy Before the Era of Sustainable Forestry". In Ajith H. Perera; David L. Euler; Ian D. Thompson (eds.). Ecology of a Managed Terrestrial Landscape: Patterns and Processes of Forest Landscapes in Ontario. Vancouver: UBC Press. pp. 253–254. ISBN 0-7748-0749-0.
  10. ^ John G. Mock (April 9, 1941). "Crown Lands Leased". Pittsburgh Press. p. 30.
  11. ^ "Lake Sulphite Co. Committee Named". Montreal Gazette. March 1, 1938.
  12. ^ R. Peter Gillis; Thomas R. Roach (1986). Lost Initiatives: Canada's Forest Industries, Forest Policy, and Forest Conservation. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 297. ISBN 0-313-25415-X.

External linksEdit