Hurricane Hazel @ 101

Ms Hazel McCallion, 101 years old, has been reappointed to the Greater Toronto Airports Authority board of directors. She was first appointed to the board in 2017. McCallion also sits 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 would make any listener 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.

Mayor McCallion was born in Port Daniel of Quebec on February 14, 1921 and educated in Quebec City and Montreal. She then began her career in Montreal with Canadian Kellogg, an engineering and contracting firm, and was transferred to Toronto in 1942 to help set up the local office. Mayor McCallion remained with the company for 19 years. In 1967 she decided to leave the corporate world and devote her career to politics.

Hazel was married to Sam McCallion on September 29, 1951. Sam passed away in 1997. Hazel’s in-laws on her marriage to Sam gifted a piece of land in the village of Streetsville. She still resides in Streetsville and believes that one got to have a life filled with purpose and meaning and living her life in a Christian-like manner helped to motivate her and keep her energized. She does everything around the house herself like cleaning, grocery shopping, gardening, etc. She likes to be self sufficient and thinks that housework and gardening are great forms of exercise and keep her humble.

Her principles are grounded in the belief that a city should be run like a business; thus, she encourages 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.”

Thank you Hazel for all your hard work, commitment and dedication and to prove that age is only a number – even past hundred.

Exploring Downtown Montreal

Early in the morning on August 31, we drove to Mount Royal.  This hill at its 233 meters of altitude and 200 hectares in area, quite literally in typical tactical language of a young subaltern, ‘dominates’ Montreal.  Mount Royal owes its name to Jacques Cartier who then turned the name Mont Royal to name the city Montreal!    Mount Royal is nicknamed the ‘Mountain’ by Montrealers.   The park atop the mountain was created in 1876 and designed by the same landscape architect as the Central Park in New York, Frederick Law Olmsted.

We parked our car at the base of Mount Royal, next to the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery and then We took a stroll inside the cemetery.  It stands as a celebration of Montréal’s religious, cultural, historical, architectural and environmental heritage.  It is Canada’s largest Catholic cemetery with over 900,000 people buried there since 1854.  Over the years, it has become not only a natural haven for local flora and fauna but also home to some rare tree species.

With the city thriving, a resting place for the departed had to be established far from the city, for reasons of health and hygiene, as well as for lack of space in the downtown area. In 1852 the first cemetery was created on Mount Royal and was used for burial of   Anglophone Protestants.  The Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Catholic cemetery followed in 1854.

We then trekked our way up the mountain, walking through a pine forest to the summit to the Mount Royal Chalet.  This building was commissioned in 1931 by the then Mayor, Camillien Houde to provide employment during the Great Depression.  It was designed by the Québec architect Aristide Beaugrand-Champagne with a stone facade, large windows and elegant doors.  Inside the chalet, are paintings depicting the history of Montreal.  It also houses a food counter and a souvenir shop.


Kondiaronk Lookout located outside the Mount Royal Chalet is the best-known lookout point on Mount Royal, offering an exceptional view of Montreal and its skyscrapers as well as the St. Lawrence River.

Our trek then continued to the Iron Cross.  It was erected in 1924, the cross atop Mount Royal to commemorate the day of January 6, 1643.  The cross stands 30 metres high and when lit, can be seen from nearly 80 kilometers away, weather permitting.

In December of 1642 Montreal was threatened by a dangerous flood. The city’s founder, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, prayed to the Virgin Mary, vowing to raise a cross to honour her if the settlement remained safe from the flood.  His prayer was answered and the water receded. He fulfilled his promise, carrying a wooden cross to the top of Mount Royal on January 6, 1643, raising it in the Virgin Mary’s honour.

In 1874 the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society decided to raise a new metal cross to honor Maisonneuve. The project was funded by public subscription. However, the project ran into financial difficulties and soon came to a grinding halt.  Ultimately the project was completed 50 years later, in September 1924.  After five years, the cross was handed over to Montreal City.

After walking around Mount Royal, we drove to Parc Olympique, one of the most controversial structures in Montreal.  Built for the 1976 Olympic Games, it remained unfinished until the 1980s.  The Olympics cost $1.6 billion to the city (including $1.1bn for the stadium), 13 times over budget, with a string of officials convicted of breach of trust and the greatest white elephant of a stadium ever built.  The city was left with a debt that took 30 years to pay off.

The city had hosted one of the most successful World Fairs ever in 1967 -the Expo 67 – and the city, to add another feather in its cap, bid for the XXI Olympiad.

During the opening ceremony of the Olympics, out of sight of the cameras and the throng inside the stadium, the staff were frantically working to clear away the building debris. In the final scrambling months before the Games, 3,000 labourers had worked in teams 24 hours a day to make it possible for the Olympics to begin at all. They just about succeeded.

On culmination of the Olympics, the City realised that it might cost a lot to tear down the structure and also cost an enormous amount to operate.  It was also the only time in the history of the Olympics that the host nation did not win a single Gold Medal!


We then drove to St James United Church on Sainte-Catherine Street.  It is one of the city’s religious heritage gems built in 1889 by Methodist Loyalists who left New York City in the late 1700s.  The church is characterised by its spectacular stained-glass rose window, massive towers, gargoyles and High Victorian Gothic Revival architecture.

Montreal is a city that quite literally creeps under your skin and into your bloodstream. I had a sense of wanting to stay on and explore a lot more of the city’s history and heritage. But then plans are plans and we decided to stick to our schedule and accordingly, after lunch, we commenced our return journey to Toronto.

Montreal : Expo 67 & 1976 Summer Olympics


(Image Courtesy Google)
After the cruise on Saint Lawrence River, we drove to Saint Helena’s Island  and undertook an electric car ride to explore the island.  This ride traces the history of the island  from 1611 to the present day, highlighting its natural, cultural and military  heritage. City of Montreal came into world prominence with the conduct of Expo 67 and 1976 Summer Olympics.  Let me take you through this trip based on these two events which were mostly held on Saint Helena’s Island, also called Montreal’s baby sister island.


This island was named by Samuel de Champlain – founder of Montreal – in 1611 in honour of his wife, Hélène Boullé.  Located in the Saint Lawrence River, South-East of  the city of Montreal, it was purchased by the British government in 1812.  In 1870, the Canadian government acquired the island and converted into a public park.  Up until the construction of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge in 1930, it was only accessible by ferry.  The island was originally much smaller than it is today. In preparation for Expo 67, the City of Montreal consolidated several of the surrounding islands and enlarged it using earth excavated from the river bed and the construction of the Montreal Metro tunnels.


As a good soldier, let me begin with the Saint Helena’s Island’s buildings of military history value.  Above is the Fort built in 1824 by the British for protection against the United States.  It served as a storage and distribution centre for weapons and ammunition.  Today the Fort is home to the David M. Stewart Museum, where historical artifacts from Canada’s colonial past, particularly that of New France are displayed.


This is the Large powder magazine located in the centre of the Island, protected by a wall.  It had a storage capacity of 5,000 barrels of gun powder.


The Military Cemetery is home to over 1000 fallen soldiers. According to the commemorative plaque in the graveyard, there are a total of 58 known soldiers and many unknown buried here. The plaque says that “several wives and many children were also buried here”, but there is no mention whatsoever of 800 unknown soldiers buried in mass graves.

That was the military history aspect and now let me take you through what unfolded during Expo 67.  The name ‘Expo,’ which is simply an abbreviation of exposition, was coined by Montreal, and world fairs since have continued to call it ‘Expo.’  Expo 67 had pavilions from 62 participating nations.  Among the companies, Kodak and  the telephone industry had their own pavilion.  The pavilion visitors liked the most was that of telephone industry, followed by Czechoslovakia.

From the time of Expo 67, various art works were commissioned on the island.  Let us visit some of the artworks that impressed me.


This is the iconic sculpture ‘L’homme’ (The Man), commissioned in 1967 as a gift from the International Nickel Company, showcasing the theme of Expo 67- ‘Man and His World’.  It took five months to complete at a cost of $135,000.  Today it is  valued between 50 and 200 million Dollars.


The Iris sculpture was done in 1967 by Québec artist Raoul Hunter in conjunction with Expo 67.  It has four curved petals made of aluminum sheets.  All the concave surfaces converge towards each other, creating an enveloping effect.


La Ville Imaginaire is a sculpture made out of white granite.  It was a gift from Portugal in 1997 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Montreal’s Metro subway system  and Expo 67.  It depicts reflection as to how humans create mythical spaces, both out of necessity and in response to challenges.


This sculpture, l’Arc, next to the Iris, is made of ultra-high performance concrete.  Inaugurated on September 11, 2009, it was built in honour of the Chilean president Salvador Allende, who died in 1973. It depicts a curved tree with its branches touching the ground.  It was designed by Michel de Broin as a complex symbol whose meaning was to be open to individual interpretation.

Main attraction of Expo 67 was that the visitors had to stamp their passports at the entrance to each pavilion.  It encouraged people to visit more pavilions than they would have otherwise, only to get more stamps in their passport.  Let me take you through some of pavilions as they stand today.


Montreal’s famous geodesic ball, the Biosphere, was the US Pavilion during Expo 67. Instead of using bolts, the structure was welded together due to time constraints and covered with an acrylic shell. In 1976, when the structure was being repaired, welding torches set fire to the Biosphere, completely burning off the acrylic shell in less than 30 minutes, leaving behind only the steel skeleton.  During Expo 67, the pavilion trumpeted America’s ‘Race to the Moon,’ and also the American  entertainment industry. The Biosphere was later purchased for $17.5 million and restored to become Canada’s first Ecowatch Centre on World Environment Day June 6, 1995.


French Pavilion from Expo 67 is now home to the Montreal Casino. According to the original Expo 67 description of the pavilion, it featured ‘aluminum sun-breaker strips, providing an attractive sculpture effect’ and ‘a steel arrow.’


Jamaican pavilion, a replica of a 19th century two-story Jamaican country shop was constructed of thick, sand-colored plaster walls with shuttered upper windows and a cedar shingle roof.  It has been completely renovated and is now a very popular wedding destination, surrounded by trees and nature.


Building off the success of the 1967 Expo, Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau wanted to cement Montreal’s place in the world as a truly International City.  Thus the city took on hosting the XXI Olympic Games in 1976.  Montreal Olympics was best known for Nadia Comăneci – the first person to score a perfect 10 at the Olympic Games – and also infamously for Canada becoming the first Olympic hosting nation not to win any Gold Medal.


This is the Olympic Basin which was used for canoeing and rowing competitions during the 1976 Olympic Games.  It extends over 2.2 kilometres in length; it is 110 metres wide and 2.5 metres deep. The Basin’s unique installations and it’s calm waters make it the pride of every rowing enthusiast.  The pavilions of Expo 67 of India,  Germany, Australia, Myanmar, Mexico and Thailand had to be demolished to make way for the Basin.  Today many competitive boating events are held here such as the Canadian Masters Championships and the Montréal International Dragon Boat Race Festival.


Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is a 4,361-metre long car-racing track which has played host to the Formula 1 Grand Prix du Canada since 1978. The track is well-regarded for its smooth asphalt surface and the meticulous manner in which the track is maintained. These track conditions contribute to the high-calibre racing performances by the F1 cars.  When it is not hosting an event, the Circuit is where cycling, para-cycling, inline skating and running enthusiasts come to train.

From Saint Helena’s Island, we drove to our hotel in Montreal City for a well deserved rest and to explore the city next day.