Hazel McCallion, the pint-sized “Hurricane” who ruled Mississauga, Ont., as mayor for 12 terms and into her 94th year, has died. She was 101. Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that McCallion died at home early Sunday morning.
“Hazel was the true definition of a public servant,” Ford said in a statement announcing her death. “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.” McCallion’s successor, Bonnie Crombie, said “Hazel was not only my mentor and political role model but the reason why so many women were inspired to enter politics.”
McCallion lost her first political race, the 1966 contest for deputy reeve, but after that she would not be defeated in her next 17 electoral campaigns in the city that adjoins Toronto to the west. As mayor of Mississauga from 1978 to 2014, she went unopposed twice and was not seriously threatened by rivals in nine other re-election bids. One hapless foe likened taking her on to “challenging somebody’s favourite grandmother.” He said that in 1985; she was not yet halfway into her tenure.
McCallion earned her nickname “Hurricane Hazel” soon after taking decisive action during an explosive train derailment in 1979. She embodied the moniker through the decades: strong, fearless and sometimes indiscriminate in her targets. She was not the first female mayor of a large city, nor the first woman to lead a smaller region, but Hazel became a first name in Canadian mayors irrespective of gender. McCallion hated the term “feminist,” however, and described her approach in a male-dominated field in typically impolitic terms: “Think like a man, act like a lady and work like a dog.”
She set an agenda that saw all of Mississauga, not just land close to populated areas, open for business to developers. In turn, developers paid levies and helped provide libraries, arenas and community centres, but some critics dubbed her the “Queen of Sprawl” as a result. City coffers brimmed, and McCallion was able to burnish her reputation for running government like a business. At one point, Mississauga ratepayers went a decade without seeing a property tax increase.
Retirement from politics did not silence Hurricane Hazel, as she made frequent public appearances, including for a 100th birthday party. In June 2016 she began a three-year term as the first chancellor of Sheridan College, a step in its bid to become a university.
“I never had the opportunity to go to college or university myself; it wasn’t financially possible,” McCallion told the Toronto Star. “But I really believe education is so important because the future of our Canadian economy is going to be brainpower.” A senior public school, college campus, university learning centre, hospital wing and public library all bear her name in Mississauga.
McCallion’s death is a loss for the people of Mississauga and the country as a whole. She was a trailblazer whose career in politics and service to her community will remain an inspiration to all of us. But mostly, she will be remembered as a dear friend.