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Hurricane Hazel

Mississauga mayor's no-nonsense work ethic has made her one of Canada's longest-serving and most popular politicians.


When she gives her marching orders, everyone fellows in step. Her tireless optimism has earned her the nickname "Hurricane Hazel." At 85, Hazel McCallion has been elected again to serve her 11th term as mayor of Mississauga, Ontario, making her one of Canada's longest serving municipal leaders. "I don't know what else I would do," she confesses. "I can't sit around. I enjoy it and am in good health."

Mayor Hazel McCallion
Hazel unwinds in her backyard garden with her German shepherd, Hurricane.

McCallion, the youngest of five siblings, was born on Valentine's Day, 1921, in the Gaspé fishing village of Port Daniel, Quebec. Her father, Herbert, owned the local fish processing pant and her mother, Amanda, was a nurse. Raised on a 100-acre farm during the Great Depression, Hazel knows what it is like to struggle and fight for what you believe in.

At ten, she learned a good work ethic as she kept the books for her dad. She was also working hard to develop her ice hockey skills. Speed and checking were at the top of the list! Years later, at 85, she is still active enough to take to the ice for the occasional game with friends.

Hazel left the Gaspé coast at 13 to attend school in Quebec city and Montreal. While at school in Montreal, she played in a women's professional hockey league, earning $5 a game. After graduating from high school Hazel hung up her skates for a career with Canadian Kellogg and remained with the company for 19 years.

Mayor McCallion gives Mississauga resident Oscar Peterson a civic honour.

"They weren't the cereal people," she adds, "They were engineers and contractors." She worked her way up from secretary to office manager. When the company decided to expand, the sent her to open the new Toronto office.

As Canadian Kellogg encountered more competition, business slowed. In 1967 a restless Hazel retired to help her husband, Sam, with his printing business. Hazel Journeaux and Sam McCallion met through an Anglican Church youth group in the late 1940s and married in 1951. He was her biggest supporter and closest confidant during their 46-year marriage. Sam had a long battle with Alzheimer's disease and died from pneumonia in 1997. They have three adult children and one grandchild.

An interest in politics came while Hazel was dabbling in the printing business. She became involved in the Streetsville, Ontario, community and was asked by the mayor to join the powerful planning board, eventually becoming its chairperson. She was appalled at the lack of regulation. "Nobody knew where the sewers were, buildings were going up without permits, the town was a mess," she recalls. In her late 50, a time when many contemplate retirement, she became mayor, fighting the province's plan to amalgamate Streetsville with nearby Mississauga.

A no-nonsense leader, McCallion has been instrumental in bringing companies and investments to Canada. She turned a sleepy bedroom community into a city which is a hotbed of corporate activity. Mississauga, a city of 700,000, has tripled its population since this "hurricane" blew in.

Hazel's first connection with The Salvation Army in Mississauga was 25 years ago when she was invited to a function. "I can't quite remember what that was, thought," she grins. "The Salvation Army is very obvious in this city and certainly has an impact, there's no question about it. I love The Salvation Army."

This feisty Mayor is a devout Anglican. "My faith plays a major role in my desire to help people," she says. "I encourage people to integrate and get involved with all aspects of our community." She loves children and is the founder of Hazel's Hope, which raises funds to assist children affected by HIV/AIDS in Tanzania. To date, more than half a million dollars has been raised through World Vision.

Rising at 5 a.m. Hazel's typical work day begins at 7 a.m. and often doesn't end until 11 p.m. Her staff field 20 to 50 invitations per day. "My kids have to phone them to book an appointment with me."


Her grey 2002 Buick Park Avenue with the license plate MAYOR1 is equipped with a car phone on speed-dial to the office so she can report potholes, garbage and downed trees. "They've just supplied me with a blackberry. I haven't started to use it yet. It took a long time to accept a phone in my car."

Speeches by this mayor are not written by her staff. She makes it very clear that they are only to provide her with a few key facts. "I don't want a written speech. I can't put any enthusiasm into it," she insists.

Hazel has received both high praise and severe criticism for her role. She's tough, aggressive and puts up with nothing. "I look at criticism as a challenge, an opportunity to find solutions." She continues to inspire people to recognize their strengths, overcome their weaknesses and act in a deliberate, kind and resolute fashion.

McCallion could fill a book with her accomplishments. In November 2005, she was made a member of the Order of Canada at a ceremony in the nation's capital. The Order of Canada was created in 1967 to recognize outstanding achievement and service in various fields of human endeavour. Hazel has joined a select group of 5,000. The World Mayor organization named her No. 2 in 2005, after the mayor of Athens, Greece.

Her victory for her 11th term in office was almost guaranteed. She won 92 percent of the vote in the last election. She supports a strong sustainable future that permits local governments to control their own destiny. As a result of her pay-as-you-go philosophy and running the city like a business, Mississauga is debt-free with a strong economy. The mayor also supports "smart growth," the planned development of communities whereby urban sprawl is contained and growth is managed.

In her free time—which admittedly is rare—Hazel still enjoys skating, roller blading, gardening and golf. She and her 11-year-old German shepherd, Hurricane, spend as much time together as possible. Hurricane was a 75th birthday gift from her daughter.

Hazel's secret to success is straightforward. "Develop independence, have a mind of your own, be determined, set goals and work hard to get there. Above all else is something my mother taught me: never tell a lie."

Linda Leigh is a staff writer for Faith & Friends.

Originally published in Faith & Friends, August 2006. Updated, November 14, 2006.

 

 
 
 
 

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