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At 101 years old, and 36 years as mayor, ‘Hurricane Hazel’ is still a force to be reckoned with in Canada

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At 101 years old, and 36 years as mayor, ‘Hurricane Hazel’ is still a force to be reckoned with in Canada

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario – On Valentine’s Day, the first thing she took is Justin Trudeau’s call. Next, she attended the Ontario premiere at the unveiling of a new commuter train line to be named in her honor.

By 4:30 p.m. that day — her 101st birthday — Hazel McCallion arrived at the shopping mall, where she took a seat in a rocking chair behind a velvet rope at an exhibit about her life and accepted bouquets and tributes from dozens of fans. Started.

A little over five feet tall, Ms. McCallion has attracted the attention of well-wishers, just as she has gained respect in Canadian politics for decades.

She has been a force to be reckoned with in Canadian politics for longer than any living person, even though she began her career in middle age.

He ran his first campaign for elected office in 1966, five years before Mr Trudeau, prime minister, was born.

When she was first elected mayor of a Toronto suburb of Mississauga in 1978, her City Hall office looked after the cows.

By the time he left office 36 years later at the age of 93, the farms had been replaced by condo towers, a college campus, a transit hub and shopping center in what is now Canada’s seventh largest city, giving him a nickname have been found. Not so fond of, “queen of detail.”

She prefers the nickname “Hurricane Hazel”, an ode to her brutal style – although a devastating tornado with the same name, which killed nearly 80 people around Toronto in 1954, is still fresh in local memory. was when he earned it.

Within a few months of his first term, he gained a national profile for managing the mass evacuation of some 220,000 residents after a train derailment in 1979.

The dramatic event was dubbed the “Mississauga Miracle” because of the success of the emergency response after two dozen rail cars carrying hazardous chemicals caught fire at an intersection in the city.

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

“There was a thing to be done,” said Ms. McCallion, “and I did it.”

As mayor, she was known for an uncompromising leadership style, a bluntness of not taking prisoner, and a political independence, which meant she never ran under the banner of any party.

Tom Urbaniac, a professor of political science at the University of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and author of a book about the Mississauga outbreak when Ms. ” “She was very, very practical and it was part of her political recipe.”

David Peterson, former Liberal premier of Ontario between 1985 and 1990, said, “Everybody was sensitive to Hazel because she was such a small dynamo.” “She’s a team player, if she’s running a team. But I can’t imagine having Hazel in the cabinet. “She’s not a smooth follower.”

She was 57 when she became mayor of Mississauga, at a time when Canada had few women holding important political positions.

But as she sat down for an interview in the living room of her Mississauga home a few days after her 101st birthday celebration, Ms McCallion was particularly stoic in dismissing any discussion of sexism she had come across.

“I’ve got very strong male support because I’m independent,” she said. “And they know I’m not the flower of the wall.”

In her successful first campaign for Mississauga mayor, her opponent, the incumbent, regularly patronized her gender references, which helped rally support for her. He defeated her and never lost an election after that, winning most of the subsequent elections by a large margin.

His home in Mississauga is decorated with mementos and celebrity photographs, which is more than one might expect from such a long political career. Less commonly, a hockey jersey with numbers to commemorate his 99th, 100th and 101st birthdays is hung over a spiral banister in front of his dining room.

Among all the items she says she holds dearest is a watch from her hometown of Port Daniel on the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec. The youngest of five children, Ms. McCallion was born in a farmhouse and grew up during the Great Depression.

“When you have to leave home at 14 and you’re a kid with depression, you have to be 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, with instilling the confidence to take on the world. He later finished secretarial school, got a job managing the office of an engineering firm in Montreal – and began playing professional hockey for five dollars a game.

She played in a women’s league with three teams from 1940 to 1942 and was known for her speed on the ice. He had to replace the two lower teeth after sticking to the mouth in a particularly rough game. In her 2014 memoir, “Hurricane Hazel: A Life with Purpose,” she wrote, “Considering the dental cost, I think I sabotaged my professional hockey career as well.”

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

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She said she was disappointed with the boys’ club running the town and was appointed to its planning board, which eventually headed it. Before being amalgamated with Mississauga, he served as mayor of Streetsville from 1970 to 1973.

Her husband, Sam McCallion, passed away in 1997. The couple had three children. “I had a wonderful husband,” said Ms. McCallion. “He stood back. He looked after his business, and he let me watch politics, so we did a great job together.”

As Mississauga grew rapidly during his time as mayor, his term was not without its detractors. Mr. Urbaniac, a political scientist, said she became known for stamping out dissent at City Hall with personal political horse-drawing.

“Some serious conversations and debates unfortunately took place behind closed doors to try to present this unified front,” Mr Urbaniak said. “It looked a little terrifying.”

Perhaps a product of so many decades spent in politics, Ms. McCallion speaks in aphorisms and mantras: No decision is worse than bad, make everyday count, negativity is bad for your health, have a purpose. And her favorite: “Do your homework.”

In one rare time it appears she hasn’t done her homework, leading to allegations of conflict of interest and a subsequent court case dismissed by a judge in 2013.

Ms McCallion claimed she did not know the extent of her son’s ownership stake in a real estate company that proposed to develop land near City Hall into an upscale hotel, convention center and condominium. The project was scrapped, with the land used for the Hazel McCallion campus at Sheridan College instead.

“Unfortunately, my son, he had heard me talk so often that we needed a convention center in the city core,” she said. “He attempted to do this and tried to persuade others to support him.”

In her memoir, Ms McCallion insisted she always put the interests of residents first and denounced the Inquisition costing taxpayers multimillion dollars “so that my political adversaries could try to extort their pounds from me. “

Since retiring as mayor in 2014, he has kept an exhausting schedule – getting up at 5:30 a.m., supporting campaigns for local causes, and making frequent stops at exhibitions, or as he puts it, “my museum.” She says, to meet with community groups. ,

People continue to seek his presence and his political blessings, including Bonnie Crombie, whom he endorsed – some say anointed – to take his place as mayor.

Ms. McCallion has a good time at the exhibition, with one leg crossed in her rocking chair, receiving visitors thanking, she said, “for making a great city.”

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

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