MISSISSAUGA, Ontario – She first got a call from Justin Trudeau on Valentine’s Day. She then joined Ontario’s premier at the unveiling of a new commuter train named in her honor.
At 4:30 p.m. that day—her 101st birthday—Hazel McCallion had arrived at the mall, where she took a seat in a rocking chair behind a velvet rope at an exhibit about her life and began to accept bouquets and tributes from dozens of fans.
At just over five feet tall, Mrs. McCallion has commanded the attention of towering benefactors, just as she has commanded respect in Canadian politics for decades.
She has been a force in Canadian politics for longer than anyone, even though she began her career in middle age.
She ran her first campaign for elected office in 1966, five years before Prime Minister Mr Trudeau was born.
When she was first elected mayor of Mississauga, a Toronto suburb, in 1978, her town hall overlooked cows.
By the time she left office, 36 years later at age 93, the fields had been replaced by condominiums, a university campus, a transit hub and shopping centers in what is now Canada’s seventh largest city, giving her the nickname she gave her. is. am not fond of, “the queen of sprawl.”
She prefers to be nicknamed ‘Hurricane Hazel’, an ode to her brash style – although a devastating storm of the same name, which killed about 80 people around Toronto in 1954, was still fresh in local memory when she deserved it. .
Just months into her first term, she was given a national profile for managing a mass evacuation of nearly 220,000 residents following a train derailment in 1979.
The dramatic event was dubbed the “Mississauga Miracle” due to the success of the emergency response after two dozen railcars carrying dangerous chemicals went up in flames at an intersection in the city.
No one died, and one of the few injured was Mrs. McCallion, who sprained her ankle while running around working on the evacuation. She had to be carried to some meetings by emergency services.
“There was a job to be done,” said Mrs. McCallion, “and I did it.”
As mayor, she was known for an uncompromising leadership style, a take-no-prisoners bluntness, and a political independence that kept her from running under the banner of any party.
“It’s not like she’s held consistent positions all these years,” said Tom Urbaniak, a professor of political science at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia and the author of a book on Mississauga’s sprawl during Mrs. McCallion’s time. . “She was very, very pragmatic and that was part of her political recipe.”
Her hockey skills were also famous – she played professionally – and in the political arena, they translated into a willingness to bruise opponents.
“Everyone knelt in front of Hazel because she was this little dynamo,” said David Peterson, a former Liberal Premier of Ontario between 1985 and 1990. “She’s a team player, when she leads the team. But I can’t imagine Hazel in a closet,” he added. “She’s not an easy follower.”
She was 57 when she became mayor of Mississauga, at a time when few women held important political office in Canada.
But during an interview in the living room of her Mississauga home a few days after her 101st birthday celebrations, Ms. McCallion was typically curt in dismissing the discussion about the sexism she might have encountered.
“I’ve had very strong male support because I’m independent,” she said. “And they know I’m not a wallflower.”
In her successful first campaign for mayor of Mississauga, her opponent, the incumbent, repeated frequent patronizing references to her gender, helping to rally support for her. She defeated him and never lost an election after that, dragging most subsequent elections to victory by excessive margins.
Her Mississauga home is decorated with the mementos and celebrity photos one would expect from such a long political career. Less typical are hockey shirts with numbers commemorating her 99th, 100th and 101st birthdays, which are hung over the spiral stair railing across from her dining room.
Of all the objects, she said, the one she holds most dear is a clock from her hometown, Port Daniel, on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. Mrs. McCallion, the youngest of five children, was born on a farm and grew up during the Great Depression.
“If you have to leave home at 14 and you’re a depressed child, you have to become completely independent,” she said. “You don’t call home for money.”
She spent her high school years studying in Montreal and Quebec City, and thanks her mother, a nurse, for giving her the confidence to take on the world. Later she finished secretarial school, got a job as manager of an engineering firm’s office in Montreal – and started playing professional hockey for five dollars a game.
She played in a three-team women’s league from 1940 to 1942 and was known for her speed on the ice. She had to have two lower teeth replaced after a stick to the mouth in a particularly rough game. In her 2014 memoir, “Hurricane Hazel: A Life With Purpose,” she wrote, “Given the dental costs, I think I broke even during my professional hockey career.”
The engineering firm moved her to Toronto, which had no women’s league, so she stopped playing hockey for a fee, but continued to skate quickly, until about three years ago. She left the company after more than two decades to help her husband manage his printing business, and she became more involved in the business of Streetsville, Ontario, then an independent suburb of Toronto.
She said she was frustrated with the boys’ club that runs the town and was appointed to the planning board and eventually chairman of it. She was mayor of Streetsville from 1970 to 1973, before it was merged with Mississauga.
Her husband, Sam McCallion, died in 1997. The couple had three children. “I had a wonderful husband,” said Mrs. McCallion. “He took a step back. He took care of his business and he let me handle politics, so we worked extremely well together.”
As Mississauga grew rapidly during her time as mayor, her tenure was not without detractors. She became known for wiping out displays of discord in town hall, with the political horse trade taking place in private, which made for tasteless council meetings, said Mr. Urbaniak, the political scientist.
“Unfortunately, some of the serious talks and debates have taken place behind closed doors to try and present this united front,” said Mr. urbaniak. “It seemed a little scary.”
Perhaps a product of so many decades in politics, Ms. McCallion tends to talk in aphorisms and mantras: No decision is worse than a bad one, make every day count, negativity is bad for your health, have a purpose. And her favorite: “Do your homework.”
One of the rare occasions when she didn’t seem to have done her homework led to conflict of interest allegations and a subsequent lawsuit that was dismissed by a judge in 2013.
Ms. McCallion claimed to be unaware of her son’s ownership interest in a real estate company that proposed developing land near City Hall into a luxury hotel, convention center and condominiums. The project was demolished, and instead the land was used for the Hazel McCallion campus at Sheridan College.
“Unfortunately, my son, he had heard me talk so many times that we needed a convention center in the downtown core,” she said. “He tried to do it and tried to convince others to support him.”
In her memoir, Ms. McCallion insists that she always puts citizens’ interests first and denounces the multimillion-dollar cost to taxpayers for an inquest “so my political opponents could try to take their pounds off me.”
Since retiring as mayor in 2014, she has maintained an exhausting schedule: she gets up at 5:30 a.m., supports campaigns for local causes, and stops regularly at the exhibit, or as she calls it, “my museum” to meet community groups. .
People continue to search for her presence and her political blessing, including Bonnie Crombie, whom she supported — some say anointed — to take her place as mayor.
Ms. McCallion spends a lot of time in the exhibit, one leg crossed over the other in her rocking chair, receiving visitors who thank her, she said, “for creating a great city.”
“If you build a solid foundation,” she said, “no one can ruin it.”