At 101 and after 36 years as mayor, 'Hurricane Hazel' is still a force in Canada

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — On Valentine’s Day, she first got a call from Justin Trudeau. Then, she joined the Premier of Ontario at the unveil...


MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — On Valentine’s Day, she first got a call from Justin Trudeau. Then, she joined the Premier of Ontario at the unveiling of a new commuter train line that will bear her name.

At 4:30 p.m. that day – her 101st birthday – Hazel McCallion had arrived at the mall, where she sat in a rocking chair behind a velvet rope during a display about her life and began to accept bouquets and tributes from dozens of fans.

Standing just over five feet tall, McCallion has captured the attention of towering supporters, just as she has commanded respect in Canadian politics for decades.

She’s been a force in Canadian politics longer than anyone, even though she started her career in middle age.

She organized her first election campaign in 1966, five years before the birth of Mr. Trudeau, the prime minister.

When she was first elected mayor of Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto, in 1978, her office at city hall watched over the cows.

By the time she left office, 36 years later, at the age of 93, the fields had been replaced by condo towers, a college campus, a transit hub and shopping malls in this which is now Canada’s seventh-largest city, bestowing her with a nickname she’s not so fond of, “the queen of sprawl.”

She prefers the nickname “Hurricane Hazel”, an ode to her brash style – although a devastating storm of the same name, which killed around 80 people around Toronto in 1954, was still fresh in local memory when she called it. deserved.

Just months into her first term, she gained national profile for managing a mass evacuation of nearly 220,000 residents after a train derailment in 1979.

This dramatic event has been dubbed the “Mississauga Miracle” due to the success of the emergency response after two dozen train cars carrying hazardous chemicals caught fire at a city intersection.

No one died and one of the few people injured was Ms McCallion, who sprained her ankle while rushing to work on the evacuation. She had to be carried to some meetings by emergency responders.

“A job had to be done,” Ms. McCallion said, “and I did it.”

As mayor, she was known for her uncompromising leadership style, uncompromising candor and political independence which meant she never ran under any party banner.

“It’s not like she’s been in regular positions all these years,” said Tom Urbaniak, a political science professor at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia and author of a book on sprawl. of Mississauga during Ms. McCallion’s tenure. “She was very, very pragmatic and that was part of her political recipe.”

Her hockey skills were also recognized – she played professionally – and in the political arena they translated into a willingness to deliver deadly checks to her opponents.

“Everyone kind of genuflected at Hazel because she was this little dynamo,” said David Peterson, former Liberal premier of Ontario between 1985 and 1990. “She’s a team player, if she leads the team. But I can’t imagine having Hazel in a cabinet,” he added. “She’s not a comfortable follower.”

She was 57 when she became mayor of Mississauga, at a time when few women held important political office in Canada.

But sitting for an interview in the living room of her Mississauga home days after her 101st birthday celebrations, Ms McCallion was typically curt in dismissing any discussion of sexism she might have encountered.

“I had really strong male support because I’m independent,” she said. “And they know I’m not a wallflower.”

During her successful first campaign for mayor of Mississauga, her incumbent opponent repeatedly made condescending references to her gender, which helped rally support for her. She defeated him and never lost an election thereafter, winning most subsequent elections by inordinate margins.

His home in Mississauga is decorated with memorabilia and photos of celebrities one would expect from such a long political career. More rarely, hockey jerseys with numbers commemorating his 99th, 100th and 101st birthdays hang above the spiral railing in front of his dining room.

Of all the objects, she says that the one that is dearest to her is a clock from her hometown, Port Daniel, in Gaspésie, Quebec. The youngest of five children, Ms McCallion was born on a farm and raised during the Great Depression.

“When you have to leave home at 14 and you’re a child with depression, you have to become completely independent,” she said. “You don’t call home for money.”

She spent her high school years studying in Montreal and Quebec City and credits her mother, a nurse, for instilling in her the confidence to take on the world. Later, she finished her studies in secretarial studies, got a job as an office manager for an engineering firm in Montreal and started playing professional hockey for five dollars a game.

She played from 1940 to 1942 in a women’s league with three teams and was known for her speed on the ice. She had to have two lower teeth replaced following a stick in the mouth in a particularly tough match. In her 2014 memoir, “Hurricane Hazel: A Life With Purpose,” she wrote, “Given the cost of dental care, I guess I’ve broken even in my professional hockey career.”

The engineering firm relocated her to Toronto, which had no women’s league, so she quit playing hockey for pay, but continued to skate fast until about three years ago. She left the business after more than two decades to help her husband run his printing business, and became more involved in the business community of Streetsville, Ontario, at the time an independent suburb of Toronto. .

She said she was frustrated with the boys’ club running the town and was appointed to its planning council, which she eventually chaired. She was mayor of Streetsville from 1970 to 1973, before it merged with Mississauga.

Her husband, Sam McCallion, died in 1997. The couple had three children. “I had a wonderful husband,” Ms McCallion said. “He backed off. He minded his own business and he let me handle the politics, so we worked really well together.

As Mississauga grew rapidly during his tenure as mayor, his tenure was not without detractors. She became known for stifling expressions of dissent at city hall, with the trade in political horses taking place in private, which allowed for smooth council meetings, said Mr. Urbaniak, the political scientist.

“Some of the serious conversations and debates have unfortunately taken place behind closed doors in an attempt to present this unified front,” Mr. Urbaniak said. “It seemed a little strange.”

Perhaps the product of so many decades in politics, Ms McCallion tends to speak in aphorisms and mantras: no decision is worse than a bad one, make every day count, negativity is bad for your health, have a purpose. And his favorite: “Do your homework”.

One of the few times she appeared not to have done her homework led to conflict of interest allegations and a subsequent legal case that was thrown out by a judge in 2013.

Ms. McCallion said she did not know the extent of her son’s involvement in a real estate company that proposed to develop land near City Hall into an upscale hotel, convention center and condominiums. The project was abandoned, with the land being used instead for the Hazel McCallion Campus of Sheridan College.

“Unfortunately, my son, he had heard me talk so often that we needed a convention center downtown,” she said. “He tried to do it and tried to convince others to support him.”

In her memoir, Ms. McCallion insists that she has always put the interests of residents first and decries the multi-million dollar cost to taxpayers of a legal inquiry “so that my political opponents can try to m ‘extirpate their pound of flesh’.

Since retiring as mayor in 2014, she’s kept to a grueling schedule — getting up at 5:30 a.m., supporting campaigns for local causes, and making frequent stops at the expo, or as she calls it, “my museum,” to meet with community groups. .

People continue to seek her presence and her political blessing, including Bonnie Crombie, whom she endorsed – some say anointed – to take her place as mayor.

Ms. McCallion spends a lot of time at the exhibit, one leg crossed over the other in her rocking chair, entertaining visitors who thank her, she says, “for creating a great city”.

“If you build a strong foundation,” she said, “then no one can ruin it.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: At 101 and after 36 years as mayor, 'Hurricane Hazel' is still a force in Canada
At 101 and after 36 years as mayor, 'Hurricane Hazel' is still a force in Canada
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