The Hamilton Spectator

McCallion was a force of nature


When she was 82, Hazel McCallion was hit by a pickup truck while crossing a pedestrian walkway. She liked to boast that she was out of the hospital and back at work before the Chevy Silverado was out of the repair shop.

The legendary former mayor of Mississaug­a, who died Sunday at 101, was famously, indomitabl­y, indisputab­ly tough.

She was a record-setting Canadian classic, a diminutive dynamo whose personal records are to municipal politics what Wayne Gretzky’s are to hockey.

McCallion was first elected mayor of Mississaug­a in 1978, when that municipali­ty was not much more than an afterthoug­ht to the west of Toronto.

“I remember looking out my office window at the old civic centre and seeing cattle and horses grazing across the street,” she said in her memoir, “Hurricane Hazel: A Life With Purpose.”

She kept getting re-elected until she retired in 2014 at age 93, by which time reporters had been asking for 30 years whether she planned to retire.

McCallion was beloved by constituen­ts because she attended everything, talked to anyone, was visible, vocal, spoke the language of flinty-eyed practicali­ty and was wholly without airs.

There were few quieter places on municipal election night in Ontario than the mayor’s office in Mississaug­a, where McCallion — who didn’t really campaign — would receive the foregone conclusion of landslide voter approval. And why not? She presided over decades of explosive growth, zero debt and cash reserves in a jurisdicti­on where tax increases were like unicorns.

“I often say to the taxpayers, I spend your money the way I spend mine, which is seldom,” she once said. “They love that.”

She was born Hazel Mary Muriel Journeaux on Valentine’s Day 1921 in Port Daniel, a village of about 1,500 on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula.

As a girl, she was active, learning to step dance, loving hockey, which she played profession­ally for a time.

By October 1954, McCallion was married to Sam McCallion, living in Streetsvil­le, working in Toronto. She left the business world for politics, serving as mayor of Streetsvil­le between 1970 and 1973. In 1974, Mississaug­a merged with Streetsvil­le and Port Credit to become the city of Mississaug­a. McCallion, who had three children, won a council seat and in 1978 ousted an incumbent mayor, setting out on a half-century career during which the terms Hazel and Mississaug­a synonymous.

A few months after McCallion took office, a freight train bearing chlorine gas crashed off the rails just before midnight in the centre of the city. Almost 250,000 Mississaug­a residents were efficientl­y evacuated in what became a major internatio­nal story.

McCallion became the city’s face, voice and morale booster on TV stations around the world. After spraining an ankle scrambling over the jumbled terrain, she was carried to one interview. The legend was made.

McCallion said in her 2014 memoir she hoped her life story might inspire young people to consider a life of public service, might help a family dealing with the pain of seeing a loved one with Alzheimers disease (as befell her husband, Sam), might drill home how essential it is to “do your homework.”

She also hoped there was something in it for seniors.

She had decided from an early age, she said, to live a life of purpose. She was not prepared to let the modest circumstan­ces of her childhood hold her back. She tried to learn from her mistakes and to lead rather than follow, she said.

“We can choose to be happy or sad. We can condemn or we can forgive. We can complain or we can contribute. The choice is ours and our wrinkles should merely indicate where our smiles have been.”

Over her half century in politics, McCallion would become variously known as “the Mississaug­a Rattler” and “the Queen of Sprawl” — just recently she endorsed controvers­ial plans to build housing on Greenbelt lands. But the nickname that rolled most easily off the tongue was “Hurricane Hazel.”

And through her long career, it fit Hazel Mary Muriel Journeaux McCallion like it was made for her.

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