Gosselin’s Eulogy of Heenan


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Lives Lived

Rosemary Gosselin’s Eulogy of Poet Michael Heenan

17 May 2014 - Poet’s Hill, Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa

Image: Detail of photo of Mike Heenan in 2007, by David Mahoney  
Mike Heenan in 2007  

The night before Michael died, I had a dream. The dream was set in MacLaren’s Landing, and featured a healer called Dr. Grace.

This whole journey of discovering my brother since his death has been, for me, laced with grace. 

Deep thanks to Evelyn, who has known our family since we were in grade 5 together, walking my little brother to kindergarten at Osgoode Street School.

Evelyn called me in April and read Kelly Egan’s article about Mike over the phone, holding my hand as she walked me through the story of my brother — “Lost and Found”.

My thanks to Kelly Egan and the Ottawa Citizen for opening the door to connecting with Kevin Dooley; thanks for the gentle music, too, Kevin and friends…. Kevin has helped me to know Michael in his later part of his life and done so much to make today possible and beautiful. It warms my heart to know Michael drew such special people around him.

Is this not a gorgeous place for a poet to be laid to rest?

My thanks to Roger Boult, who knew Michael well, and worked together with him to create Poet’s Hill.  Roger, Francois, and the team at Beachwood have been marvellous midwives for this passage.

Thanks to my friend Carol Hahn, potter of The Blue Mountains, who coincidentally traces her ancestry back to W.B. Yeats, Michael’s favourite poet.  She created this beautiful container for him with scenes from the Landing – the marsh, the Heron, the river, a canoe, empty except for a pair of shoes – and on the lid, a poet wearing an Irish cap, comfy in a chair with a book. 

And Rhonnda, who Michael calls “the Valley Shepherdess” in one of his poems to her.  A thoughtful and wise shepherd indeed.  She has generously offered a space at All Saints for us to gather afterwards, and I hope you will all come to share tea and stories.

Thank you dear family and friends – Wendy, who kept my mother’s wedding dress and other memorabilia for us all these years; Glynn and Robert, so welcoming and supportive.  Michael also loved Glynn’s father, Vincent.

Dear Margot and Roland, so strong, loving, present and sensitive.  Always there for me. 

Grace, every step of the way.


Dear Michael, long lost brother.  Mon frère, mon semblable; Mon semblable, mon frère: our stories have too many parallels.

We both loved the Valley, the River, the Landing.  We both loved creatures, social justice, music, stories, poems.  And, when we were young, each other. 

That was before the rupture; I was “the one that got away”. Truth is complex: no blame. 

“The past is never dead”, William Faulkner reminds us. “It’s not even past”. And I suspect this is true — for better or worse — for all of us gathered here today.

Let me fish out a cherished memory or two from that deep ocean of the past.

Our parents were rich in stories — a lovely legacy we share. The Captain with his seafaring yarns. Our mother the teacher with tales of roots in England, Scotland, Wales and Southern Ontario. Small boys from cottages and farms would gather round as she sat beneath a tree, enchanting them with tales from King Arthur’s court. Reading aloud to us by the fire before the intrusion of television. Our father’s Irish father, Sam Heenan, loved journalism, opera, and drink. The story goes, he got sober at the age of 60 and went about the countryside helping others to stop drinking long before AA.

During the Second World War, our father was Captain of the Coastal Forces in the Maritimes. We spent summers at Dalvay-by-the-Sea, in P.E.I. Mike was about three, adorable with a mop of curly brown hair.  Daddy was walking with him on the beach when a woman came up and gushed, “What a beautiful child — how old is she?”  “She’s a boy!” he said sternly, and straightaway took Mike to the barber and had all of his lovely curls shorn. Mother and I wept. 

Mike could be a bit of a scallywag, even then, and we were co-conspirators in pranks.  I was six years older, and the weight of responsibility fell on me.  We once released a crate of lobsters in our mother’s bedroom in Dalvay. She awoke, shrieking, to the clatter clatter of lobster claws. Mike and I laughed and laughed.

After the war we settled in Ottawa, and our parents gave us the great gift of a cottage at MacLaren’s Landing – a gift that my daughters, Margot and Daphne treasured too.  

Mike and I — now six and 12 — would sneak out of the cottage at dawn in our flannelette PJ’s and bare feet, clutching our Brownie camera. Quietly, we would creep through the long grass at the marsh, stalking the Blue Heron, hoping for a picture. Those were magical mornings, breathless with wonder.

Later we would pile into jalopies on Saturday nights and head for the Barn Dance, kicking up our heels to the tunes of Mr. Buck and his byes. The cottage kids would be casual in shorts and bare feet, while the farm folk dressed to the nines — the men in suits on a hot summer’s night; the women in pretty dresses and high heels. Mike pays tribute to the Buck family in his poem about Henry Dolan.

Picture young Michael as a choirboy, if you will: we have an angelic photo to prove it. I think Daphne has it in Costa Rica. 

It might have been taken when he actually sang in the choir at All Saints’ Church in Sandy Hill — now Rhondda’s church. He has poems to Rhondda too: The past is prologue.   

Or when he skated at the Minto Follies with Barbara Ann Scott. Can’t recall the theme, but he was dressed in a little choirboy costume. He was so little his ankles were still a bit wobbly. Our parents had us on skates from the age of three. 

I remember Michael’s first poem, coming from heartbreak after the death of our spaniel Timmy. (Timmy and our cat Topaz are pictured at the back of Mike’s Urban Affairs and Country Matters in the photo with his best pal Michael Treadwell, now gone, but Tread’s stepfather and old family friend David Thomson, is with us today. The Thomsons, David, Mary and Michael, later Elizabeth and Naomi, were dear friends and neighbours. The two Michaels, growing up, were inseparable.

This poem about Timmy — written when Mike was 14 — got a favourable review from Irving Layton.

Here’s the back story on that. In 1956, as a journalism student at Carleton, I began research for my thesis on the Montreal Poets, and had the joy of hanging out with Leonard Cohen — before he became, well, “Leonard Cohen”. Irving Layton became a friend, and came to our house on Chapel St. after a reading at Carleton. Young Michael showed him his poem, the rest is history….

So many fond memories of you, Michael, young brother, playing guitar, singing with my girls, so generous, fun, creative, impossible — I’ve been mourning your loss for 27 years….


I’ll close now with a few lines by T.S. Eliot from Four Quartets:

“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope.          

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love.

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith.

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”