Hazel McCallion, who transformed Mississauga from a largely rural community into a bustling metropolis during a 36-year tenure as mayor, has died.
She was 101.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement in a statement issued on behalf of McCallion's family on Sunday morning, noting that the longtime mayor "passed away peacefully at her home in Mississauga early this morning."
"Hazel was the true definition of a public servant. She dedicated her long life to her community, including 36 years as mayor of Mississauga – the longest serving mayor in the city’s history. She led the transformation of Mississauga into one of Canada’s largest cities. Hazel’s mark on her community can be found in the many places and organizations that bear her name, including the Hazel McCallion Line," he said. "I count myself incredibly lucky to have called Hazel my friend over these past many years. As I entered the world of politics, I was fortunate enough to learn from her wisdom and guidance, which she selflessly offered until the very end."
Nicknamed by supporters as "Hurricane Hazel" due to her unique political style, she served 12 terms as the chief magistrate of Mississauga from 1978 to 2014.
She was born in Port Daniel, Que., on Feb. 14, 1921. Her family owned a fishing and canning company. McCallion attended business secretarial school in Quebec City and Montreal after high school.
Her first job was at the Louis Rolland Paper Company. She was later hired by the Canadian Kellogg company and transferred to Toronto.
In 1945, she met her husband Sam, and the couple married six years later. The McCallions then settled in Streetsville (before it became part of Mississauga), where Hazel's political career began.
She served as the chairman of the Streetsville Planning Board before being elected as Streetsville's mayor in 1970. Three years later, the town amalgamated with the Town of Mississauga and the Town of Port Credit to form the City of Mississauga. McCallion successfully ran for council.
In 1978, she was elected mayor, a position she would hold for 36 years. She would face the worst disaster in Mississauga's history a year later when a Canadian Pacific freight train containing hazardous chemicals derailed, caught fire and exploded.
More than 200,000 residents had to flee their homes due to the incident. McCallion's handling of the disaster, which resulted in no deaths, was praised.
Under her leadership, McCallion used lower taxes in Mississauga to attract businesses from Toronto to help the city grow. Mississauga is now the third-largest city in Ontario and the seventh-largest in Canada, with a population of 717,961.
Its population in 1978 when McCallion was first elected was 280,852.
McCallion served as mayor for more than three decades
During her over three decades in office, McCallion faced several conflicts of interest allegations. In 1982, she was found guilty by an Ontario court for participating in a council vote on the development of land that she had an interest in. She remained mayor after the judge ruled McCallion made an error of judgment.
In 2013, she was cleared of another conflict of interest allegation brought forward by a Mississauga resident, stemming from her voting on a council item in 2007 that involved her son's development company
By the time she left office in 2014, McCallion was 93 years old and had served as mayor for all but four year’s of Mississauga’s existence.
“On my first day as the mayor of Mississauga cows and horses were grazing in what is our city core today and certainly a lot has happened since then,” she said during her final council meeting. “We have built this city together; there is no question about it. No one person can take credit for it. It has been a team approach. We had to make tough decisions and now reflecting on it I think we did our homework pretty well.
In her 2014 autobiography 'Hurricane Hazel: A Life with Purpose,' McCallion said among the list of nicknames she had – some of which she noted were uncomplimentary and sexist such as "Queen of Sprawl" and "The Mom Who Runs Mississauga" – Hurricane Hazel was her favourite.
She loved it so much that she named her most beloved German Shepherd dog "Hurricane."
"Premiers and prime ministers have called me Hurricane Hazel for sweeping into their offices demanding they do things to help Mississaugans. Former Ontario premier David Peterson once famously called me 'a terror to any premier in Ontario. Don't mess with her. She's the only person in the world I'm frightened of.' At just five feet two inches tall, I doubt I really frightened David, but it was a compliment if he meant I would tenaciously do anything in power to help my people," McCallion wrote in the prologue of the book, which is co-authored by journalist Robert Brehl.
"And yet, in many ways, I am no hurricane. A hurricane destroys; it batters communities, ravages cities and towns. I consider myself a builder who has been so fortunate to be at the helm as Mississauga transformed farmland and a collection of villages into Canada's sixth largest city."
While admitting that she had made mistakes and political enemies during her time, McCallion said she would not change much of what she did.
"Of course, if it were in my power, I would not have allowed my husband, Sam, to slip into the grip of Alzheimer's (He died in 1997). But that, of course, was beyond my control. As for my careers and my decisions along the way, there is not much I would change," the former mayor wrote.
"To have lived this long and to have had a job I still love makes me think of that old adage, 'Of whom much is given, much is expected.' I have sincerely tried to do the most with what I have been given."
Active until the end
After retiring from politics, McCallion held several positions in different sectors, including at post-secondary institutions and the Greater Toronto Airport Authority.
In 2022, McCallion was chosen by Ford to become the head of the Greenbelt Council.
Active until her final days, McCallion actually penned an open letter less than two weeks ago, praising the Ford government’s move to remove some land from the Greenbelt in order to build housing.
“In less than a month, I am to turn 102. You see a lot in a century,” she remarked in that letter.
In February, 2021 she spoke with CP24 about how she wanted to be remembered during her 100th birthday celebration, an event that took place on her snow-covered front lawn due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“Well, [ I want to be] remembered for building a city. Not alone, [I had] great staff, great counselors, and I hope they remember me for the many facilities that we've provided in the city for people. Because my motto when I ran as mayor of Streetsville and mayor of Mississauga, I always said planning and development for [the] people,” she said at the time.
McCallion is survived by her three children.
- With files from The Canadian Press