Hazel McCallion, affectionately known as “Hurricane Hazel” for her tireless tenacity, has died at the age of 101, her family confirms.
“At the request of the family, I announce with heavy heart, the passing of my dear friend and mentor, Hazel McCallion,” Premier Doug Ford said in a statement issued by his office.
McCallion died peacefully at her home in Mississauga early Sunday morning.
McCallion would have turned 102 on Feb. 14.
“Hazel was the true definition of a public servant,” Ford said. “There isn’t a single person who met Hazel who didn’t leave in awe of her force of personality. I count myself incredibly lucky to have called Hazel my friend over these past many years.”
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie cited McCallion as the driving force behind her decision to put her name on the ballot and succeed her as mayor.
“I wouldn’t be the leader I am today if it wasn’t for her support and sage advice,” Crombie said in a statement. “As the saying goes, ‘if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.'”
McCallion, who was born in Port Daniel, Que., on Valentine’s Day in 1921, went on to become Mississauga’s longest-standing mayor — a position she held for a remarkable 12 consecutive terms over 36 years from 1978-2014.
She retired from politics at the age of 93.
Under her leadership, Mississauga grew to become the sixth largest city in Canada, and McCallion forged her reputation as an iconic Canadian personality and dedicated public servant.
“I worked hard for the people of Mississauga for 36 years,” she humbly said upon her retirement.
After leaving politics, McCallion was appointed chancellor of Sheridan College and special advisor to the principal of the University of Toronto-Mississauga.
In a series of interviews with CityNews over the years, McCallion explained how her capacity for hard work was forged during the tough Depression years.
“Being a Depression kid, you learn that things were not plentiful, but I ate good food, ate a lot of fish,” she explained. “My mom and dad were hard workers and as a youngster I had to bring the wood in at night because we had an all-wood stove. You learn to look after yourself.”
That tough childhood was also when she learned to skate, with hockey becoming a lifelong passion.
“My brother brought me home a pair of skates when I was five-years-old. I learned to skate on a pond in a hay field.”
She went on the play for a women’s hockey team in Montreal and the championship trophy at the 1978 World Women’s Hockey Tournament was named the Hazel McCallion World Cup.
“I was a pioneer in politics as a mayor, and I certainly was a pioneer in hockey because I played professional hockey in Montreal in 1940-1941, and was paid $5 a game,” she told CityNews in 2017.
McCallion was educated in Quebec City and Montreal and started working for engineering and contracting firm Canadian Kellogg in Montreal.
In 1942, she was transferred to Toronto to help set up the local office. Some of the projects she was involved in included the Lakeview Generating Station and the first synthetic rubber plant in Sarnia. She was with the company for 19 years until 1967.
She married Sam McCallion in 1951 and had three children. Her husband passed away in 1997.
A life of public service
McCallion’s life in public service began when she was elected deputy reeve of Streetsville in 1967 and reeve in 1968. She was elected mayor of Streetsville in 1970, serving in that role until 1973.
Streetsville was amalgamated with Mississauga in 1974 and the Region of Peel came into effect. She went on to serve as councillor for the Mississauga and Peel Regional Councils for two terms and was elected the mayor of Mississauga in 1978.
She was the first woman to become mayor of Streetsville and Mississauga.
She was also appointed as a member of the Order or Canada, was inducted into the Mississauga Sports Hall of Fame and served on the executive of many federal and provincial committees and associations, including President of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.
“A woman can do anything a man can do, anything,” she stressed. “We just have to have confidence, determination and commitment to make it happen.”
It was in her role as mayor of Mississauga that she rose to prominence, becoming a beloved figure who was time-and-time again rewarded at the polls by a grateful electorate.
Her decades-long tenure, however, wasn’t without obstacles and controversies.
She oversaw the evacuation of 200,000 people from their homes, when a CP freight train with 106 cars carrying toxic chemicals derailed near Mavis Road and Dundas Street on Nov. 10, 1979, causing a fire and explosion.
No deaths were reported. She, along with other officials, were praised for how they handled the evacuation.
In 1982, she was found guilty of conflict of interest for violating the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act by voting on an issue that could have benefited her family. She was allowed to remain mayor.
In 2011, a Mississauga resident brought forth a case, alleging she violated the Act when she took part in a 2007 council vote which stood to benefit her son. A judge dismissed the case in 2013
Those controversies did little to dim her enduring popularity or reputation as an ageless trailblazer.
Across Ontario, Feb. 14 is known as Hazel McCallion Day and several institutions were named in her honour including Hazel McCallion Senior Public School and Hazel McCallion Central Library.
In the fall of 2021, the art exhibit Hazel: 100 Years of Memories was unveiled in her honour at Erin Mills Town Centre. “I thought when I retired as mayor in 2014 that I would just disappear from the scene … I just can’t believe it, the way in which the community has come together to recognize what I was able to contribute,” she told CityNews at the exhibit.
When asked about the secrets to her longevity and productiveness, McCallion was quick to offer wise words.
“You’re only as old as you think,” she said. “And you can be old at 50, you can be old at 40. It’s your attitude towards your years and your attitude towards life. You’ve gotta enjoy every day and you’ve gotta make sure you fulfill a purpose every day.
“If you want to be a success you’ve gotta be independent. And you have to realize that you’re on this earth for a purpose, so get with it!”
With files from CityNews staff, Breakfast Television, The Canadian Press and City of Mississauga