Former Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion has died at the age of 101.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced her passing in a statement early on Sunday morning, calling her the “true definition of a public servant.”
McCallion was the Mayor of Mississauga for 36 years, overseeing its transformation from a suburb into one of the country’s largest cities.
Among a slew of other accolades and accomplishments, the Quebec-born powerhouse played professional women’s hockey in Montreal, started a health program for African children suffering from HIV/AIDS, was runner-up for World Mayor in 2005 and inducted into the Order of Canada.
Amid all of these achievements, she also found time to raise three children and run the burgeoning city of Mississauga for more than three decades, without interruption.
The city remained debt-free for the entirety of her tenure.
Bonnie Crombie, McCallion’s successor as mayor, said the city had lost its “matriarch.”
“She lived a life of service before self — everything she did was for the betterment of our city,” Crombie said in a tweet. “My deepest condolences to the McCallion family.”
Crombie, like many public figures in Ontario, regularly referenced the advice she received from McCallion.
“I will miss Hazel, not only as a mentor but as a friend,” she said in a statement. “She was the driving force behind my decision to put my name on the ballot to succeed her as Mayor of this great city. I wouldn’t be the leader I am today if it wasn’t for her support and sage advice.”
Ford has also been open about seeking wisdom from McCallion.
“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,” he said.
Despite retiring from her position as mayor in 2014, McCallion continued to be a major part of public life in both Mississauga and Ontario.
She sat on the Greater Toronto Airports Authority board of directors and was, relatively recently, appointed as chair of the Greenbelt council.
Crombie told Global News that the public would be granted an opportunity to pay their respects to McCallion, who would lie for a period at the Mississauga Civic Centre. The final details have not been announced.
McCallion was born in a farmhouse in Port Daniel, rural Quebec, on Valentine’s Day 1921.
Her father ran a fish processing plant and general store, while her mother was in charge of the home and the farm. In her biography — Hurricane Hazel: A Life With Purpose — McCallion said she ate fish at least five times per week growing up.
She was the youngest of five children, and after graduating from high school made her way westward, attending business secretarial school in Quebec City and then in Montreal.
A two-decade stint in the private sector followed. McCallion was hired out of school by the Kellogg Company, a construction firm, and was eventually transferred to Toronto in 1942 to help set up the company’s local office.
A decade later, in 1951, she would meet her husband, Sam McCallion, at an Anglican church in Toronto. The two married within a year, then moved to Streetsville, a town that was eventually amalgamated with two other small communities to form the city of Mississauga.
McCallion left the Kellogg Company in 1967 to devote herself to political life, and within three years she had been elected mayor of Streetsville. She served in that position from 1970 to 1973. After the amalgamation of 1974, she sat on the new city council for four additional years.
Then, in 1978, she was elected mayor of Mississauga for the first time, a victory McCallion accredited to one major misstep by the incumbent mayor, Ron Searle.
McCallion ultimately decided to bow out of politics at age 93, leaving the mayor’s office 36 years after she was first elected. On her 80th birthday she attributed “toughness” from her rural upbringing in the Gaspe, Que., region to her longevity and political success.
“You’ve got to stand up for what you believe in, which I always have,” McCallion said at the time.
Known affectionately as “Hurricane Hazel,” Mississauga’s longest-serving mayor was an outspoken political powerhouse.
She garnered more than 90 per cent of the mayoral vote several terms in a row despite not campaigning for decades, instead asking those who wanted to make a donation to her campaign to instead give the money to a charity or a cultural fund.
In his statement, Ford pointed to the many parts of Mississauga that bear her name. The city’s central library was recently renamed in her honour, while a light rail route being built along Hurontario Street will also carry her name.
“There isn’t a single person who met Hazel who didn’t leave in awe of her force of personality,” the premier said. “I count myself incredibly lucky to have called Hazel my friend over these past many years.”
Condolences and memories poured in from other officials across the country on Sunday.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said McCallion was a “friend and mentor” who had served Mississauga with “strength and incredible energy.” His Brampton counterpart Patrick Brown said she was “the epitome of hard work and wisdom.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also issued a statement, praising McCallion’s legacy.
“Hazel McCallion led the transformation of Mississauga from a bedroom community to the sixth largest city in Canada under her guidance as mayor from 1978 to 2014,” Trudeau said.
“She believed in the growth of her community and its potential to become a city where people could both live and work, and led the charge to do just that. Through her leadership, the city was known for its strong economy, thriving multiculturalism, and excellent public services.
— with files from The Canadian Press