MISSISSAUGA, Ontario (AP) — Hazel McCallion, who led one of Canada’s largest cities into her 90′s, died Sunday, leaving behind a legacy of feisty advocacy and more than three decades of nearly unchallenged leadership. She was 101.
Known affectionately as “Hurricane Hazel,” the longtime mayor of Mississauga, Ontario, a city next to Toronto, was an outspoken political powerhouse.
Word of her death came in a statement from Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who said she died peacefully at her home in Mississauga early Sunday morning.
Ford said McCallion, who he called a “dear friend and mentor,” was the definition of a public servant, having led the transformation of the city into a major urban center.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau credited McCallion with leading "the transformation of Mississauga from a bedroom community to the sixth largest city in Canada under her guidance as mayor from 1978 to 2014.”
“My dear friend Hazel was an extraordinary woman who wore many hats: a businessperson, an athlete, a politician, and one of Canada’s – and the world’s – longest-serving mayors. Nicknamed ‘Hurricane Hazel’ for her bold political style, she was unstoppable,” Trudeau said in a statement.
As mayor, McCallion used lower taxes to attract businesses from the city’s more pricey neighbor, Toronto, creating jobs and helping the city grow.
McCallion was widely respected by other politicians, even many of those with whom she did not mince words, and was even more revered by constituents, who voted her into office with landslide victories for 12 successive terms.
She garnered more than 90% 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 give the money to a charity or a cultural fund.
McCallion ultimately decided to bow out 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, Quebec, 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.
Back when she was still a rookie mayor, McCallion cemented her hard-working reputation injuring her ankle while helping evacuate 200,000 residents from their homes after a train derailed and leaked chlorine gas. She continued to hobble to update briefings despite the sprain.
She turned down invitations from Canada's main political parties - the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats — to run for them federally or provincially, saying politics is far more satisfying at the local level.
Under McCallion’s watch, Mississauga was debt free and one of the best-run cities fiscally.
McCallion was hailed as a hero in 2006 during a police standoff involving a distraught man who was threatening to kill himself. The five-hour standoff came to a peaceful end when McCallion appeared and demanded the man stand down so police, paramedics and fire personnel could attend to more important matters.
A former professional women’s hockey player in Montreal in the 1930s, McCallion was known to keep a pair of skates and a hockey stick in the trunk of her car in case of a pick-up game.
In 2016, Ontario proclaimed McCallion’s birthday, Feb. 14, as Hazel McCallion Day.
She had three children: Peter, Paul and Linda. In 1997, her husband Sam McCallion died of Alzheimer’s disease.