Hazel McCallion, a political force of nature who transformed a city west of Toronto into one of Canada’s largest urban centres, was remembered Tuesday as an icon who never stopped working to make a difference in the lives of those she served.
Dignitaries including the prime minister and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, as well as members of the public, gathered at a Mississauga, Ont., arena to pay their respects to McCallion on what would have been her 102nd birthday.
Known affectionately as “Hurricane Hazel,” McCallion developed a legacy of no-nonsense advocacy during 36 years as mayor of Mississauga, retiring from the office at the age of 96.
She was widely respected by politicians across the spectrum and was even more revered by constituents, who voted her into office with landslide victories for 12 successive terms.
“Hazel McCallion was a giant,” said Ford. “There isn’t a single person who met Hazel who didn’t leave in awe of her force of personality.”
McCallion never hesitated to say what was on her mind, Ford said, and never lost sight of why she entered public life – “to serve the people.”
“No politician in the country understood the grassroots better than Hazel did,” Ford said. “She kept close to the pulse of the people.”
McCallion fought for the underdog, Ford said, and she had a lifelong commitment to community and community-building.
“She was an icon, a legend, she was Hurricane Hazel,” said Ford. “Mississauga is a better city, Ontario is a better province and Canada is a better country because of the amazing life of Hazel McCallion.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reminisced about going ziplining between two mountains in Italy with McCallion 15 years ago on “one of the longest, highest and fastest ziplines in the world.”
“Hazel was so unstoppable, I think we all felt she was going to live forever,” he said.
McCallion was an inspiration, Trudeau said.
“She was a true nation-builder in a nation of builders,” he said.
“She always held true to her belief of putting people at the centre of everything we do … for all of us let that be the enduring lesson and legacy of the great Hazel McCallion.”
Ontario’s lieutenant-governor said McCallion’s life was a “life of purpose.”
She believed strongly in local government and its power to make a difference in the lives of residents, Elizabeth Dowdeswell said.
“She was a trailblazer, an innovator, a fighter, a pragmatist – just getting things done,” said Dowdeswell. “Hazel was a politician who focused not on our differences but rather on the commonalities that bind us together.”
McCallion died at her home on Jan. 29 – family friend Jim Murray said she died of pancreatic cancer, which she was diagnosed with around Christmas.
Murray noted that McCallion, who he called the “architect” of Mississauga, had planned her own funeral.
“Hazel made all the arrangements for here today, do not be confused,” he said. “This clearly would have been her largest birthday celebration ever.”
Mississauga is now the third largest city in Ontario and the sixth largest in Canada, with a population of more than 700,000 as of 2021.