Ms Hazel McCallion, who transformed our city – Mississauga – a suburb of Toronto from a largely rural community into a bustling metropolis during her 36-year tenure as mayor, died at the ripe age of 101 on January 29, 2023.
Nicknamed Hurricane Hazel due to her unique political style, she served 12 terms as the Mayor of Mississauga from 1978 to 2014.
Hazel was born in Port Daniel, Que., on February 14, 1921. Her family owned a fishing and canning company. She attended business secretarial school in Quebec City and Montreal after high school. She joined the Canadian Kellogg company and transferred to Toronto. She remained with the company for 19 years. In 1967 she decided to leave the corporate world and devote her career to politics.
In 1945, she met her husband Sam, and the couple married six years later. The McCallions then settled in Streetsville (now part of Mississauga,), where Hazel’s political career began. Sam passed away in 1997. Hazel’s in-laws on her marriage to Sam gifted a piece of land in the village of Streetsville,where she lived at the time of her death
Hazel McCallion was the Greater Toronto Airports Authority board of directors at the time of her death. She was first appointed to the board in 2017. McCallion also sat as a chancellor of Sheridan College and a special advisor to the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus.
McCallion the Mayor of Mississauga, I saw her the first time when she gave the graduation address to the students when our daughter Nidhi graduated from high school in 2009. She came driving her Chevrolet Malibu car bearing the licence plate MAYOR1. The graduation address was inspiring, motivating and made the listeners think. She peppered her address with wit and humour and made everyone laugh too. Immediately after delivering the address, she dashed off to the next high school in the city to address that school’s graduates. This proved that her nickname of Hurricane Hazel suited her to the tee.
Hazel McCallion, has won every mayoral election contested in Mississauga since 1978. She is the longest serving mayor in Canada and has kept the city debt-free since her first term of office. McCallion began her political career in 1968 on the Streetsville municipality which she served as Chairman of the Planning Board, and then Mayor of Streetsville. In 1974, Streesville got incorporated into the City of Mississauga.
In her first mayoral election in 1978 she narrowly defeated the incumbent mayor. In 1979 she came into world news when a public health and safety crisis occurred during the 1979 Mississauga train derailment. A train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in a heavily populated area of Mississauga. A large explosion and fire ensued as hazardous chemicals spilled. McCallion, along with the Police and other governmental authorities, oversaw an orderly and peaceful evacuation of the entire city of 200,000 residents. Despite having sprained her ankle, she continued to hold press conferences and update briefings. There were no deaths or serious injuries during the week-long emergency.
Her reputation has hinged on her financial acumen and political pragmatism, with her no-nonsense style endearing her to constituents and alienating some opponents. In 1991 she became the first mayor to submit their city’s budget to public scrutiny.
Mayor McCallion is well known for her love of hockey. She played for a professional women’s team while attending school in Montreal. One of her friends and a hockey commentator Don Cherry, who joked during her 87th birthday that while 98 per cent of the city voted for her, he was looking for the remaining 2 per cent that didn’t. She never campaigned for the elections, she never put up posters, she never delivered any elections speeches, but she always got over 90% of the votes.
Her principles were grounded in the belief that a city should be run like a business; thus, she encouraged the business model of governance. Her family’s business background, her education, and her prior career in a corporation prepared her to approach government with this model.
Hazel’s Hope, a campaign to fund health care for children afflicted with AIDS and HIV in southern Africa is her charity initiative. Hazel became the poster girl for longevity and good health for Trillium Health Centre. On her 90th birthday, Dr. Barbara Clive, a geriatrician, marvelled at Hazel’s good health: “At 90 her gait is perfect, her speech is totally sharp and she has the drive to still run this city. She’s the poster child for seniors.”
On her 100th birthday she said “My mom or dad couldn’t afford to send me to college or university. So I had to do it without that additional education. It’s the people you meet along the way, there’s always people to help you along the way if you’re willing to accept the help.”
In December 2014, Mayor McCallion stepped-down and people of the city remain ever grateful to her. What an amazing woman, who has given her life to our great city. What an inspiration for all women and for those of a certain age, that they aren’t done yet and can still live happy very productive active lives. To the generations coming up behind, to work hard and make a name for oneself and make a difference.
After delivering her annual State of the City speech, her last as mayor on September 23, 2014, Mayor McCallion had some advice for anyone who wanted to fill her coveted seat in Mississauga: “Don’t make promises you can’t keep. You have got to be honest with people. You can’t make promises when you haven’t got a hope to fulfill them.”
RIP Hazel. Thank you Hazel for all your hard work, commitment and dedication and to prove that age is only a number – even past hundred.