10 talented and influential women who are changing–or who have changed–Mississauga
Published March 8, 2023 at 8:44 am
Mississauga, a city of more than 800,000 people, is home (or has been to home) to a number of influential women who have made their mark in traditionally male-dominated fields and continue to showcase their skills as leaders, artists, writers, athletes and more.
And today–International Women’s Day, a day dedicated to the social, economic, political and cultural achievements of women–is a perfect day to recognize the women who work (or have worked) tirelessly to guide, educate, create and contribute to not just the city but the world.
Here’s a look at some of Mississauga’s most notable women who have made an impact on the city and beyond:
If you met Hazel McCallion once, you were sure never to forget her.
Whether you came across Mississauga’s longtime mayor in the political arena–as an adversary, colleague or simply an observer–or inside the hockey arena, a place she loved dearly and in which she enjoyed much success in her youth, she left her mark.
McCallion, who served as mayor of the city for an astounding 36 years, died at 101 on Jan. 29, 2023–just two weeks shy of what would have been her 102nd birthday. Her state funeral, held on Feb. 14 (her birthday and Hazel McCallion Day), attracted a number of high-profile dignitaries, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Premier Doug Ford.
McCallion, who burst onto the national and international stage in her second year as mayor when she helped guide Mississauga through the train derailment of 1979, was always out in the community, constantly keeping a busy schedule of visits to such gatherings because she saw them all as can’t-miss events.
McCallion retired from politics in 2014, but she remained active until her death as a member of several private sector boards in addition to the board of directors of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), which runs Pearson Airport.
She also had the rare distinction of being honoured long before her death. Sheridan College named its Mississauga campus after her, and the University of Toronto–Mississauga named its academic learning centre after her as well.
Smaller schools and major health care facilities also bear her name.
In her final interview with insauga.com just before last October’s municipal election, she spoke about the winning formula when it comes to political races–something she knew a thing or many about.
“You win the next campaign starting the day after the last one,” McCallion said.
“Anyone who tries to get elected by starting six weeks before or six months before (the election)…that’s not going to get it done. You have to get involved in the community, get yourself known and show the citizens that you want to work for them. That’s the key.
“Every day, you have to work at it and enjoy what you’re doing. And prove to the citizens that you’re interested. It’s simple. It’s common sense.”
Since being elected in 2014, Mayor Bonnie Crombie has made a splash in Mississauga and her profile keeps growing.
In fact, some believe Crombie should lead the province as leader of the Ontario Liberal Party.
Before becoming mayor, she was a Liberal MP for the riding of Mississauga–Streetsville from 2008-2011. She was also a councillor for Ward 5 from 2011-2014.
Crombie’s endorsement from Hazel McCallion may have helped secure her victory in the 2014 mayor’s race, but her achievements since then have spoken for themselves. They include but are not limited to her aim to tackle poverty and homelessness, her international strategies and her management of other social and political issues.
Janice Baker’s name might not be as familiar as Crombie’s or McCallion’s, but she’s been a huge part of Mississauga’s governance for more than 20 years. Baker, who currently serves as the Chief Administrative Officer for the Region of Peel, has been with the City in some capacity since 1999.
According to the Civic Action Leadership Foundation, Baker first served Mississauga as the commissioner of corporate services and treasurer before taking on the role of city manager and CAO in 2005. She served in that capacity until May 2020, when she took on her current position with the Region.
The Civic Action Leadership Foundation says Baker has received numerous awards, including the Vanier Medal from the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) in 2019, the WXN Top 100 Award winner in the Public Sector Leaders category in 2005, 2007 and 2009, the FCPA designation from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario (ICAO) in 2011 and more.
Baker was also Inducted into the WXN Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women’s Hall of Fame in 2010.
Art and literature
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, 21, impressed well-known actor, writer, comedian and producer Mindy Kaling a few short years ago, and she’s continued to impress us ever since.
In Netflix’s Never Have I Ever, Ramakrishnan, a Meadowvale Secondary School alum, plays the lead role of a first-generation Indian-American dealing with the death of her father and the hormone-fuelled challenges of adolescence.
Ramakrishnan auditioned for the part in the coming-of-age comedy series after seeing an open casting call on social media. She beat out some 15,000 other hopefuls and went on to receive an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her performance.
In 2021, the young actor was among the Canadians on Time magazine’s 100 Next list.
Kaling wrote the profile of the Tamil-Canadian performer in the Time article. She wrote Ramakrishnan is a “gifted comic actress” who “has an activist’s heart and wants to use her platform to help others.”
Recently, Ramakrishnan (or her voice, rather) appeared in the Pixar hit Turning Red.
Mona Awad is an incredibly talented author whose debut novel, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, was shortlisted for a prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize. The book also won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award.
The biting, funny and poignant memoir-style novel is spectacular and more than worth a read.
We actually wrote quite a bit about it here. The novel is partially set in Mississauga, the city where Awad was raised, and even opens in the McDonald’s at Burnhamthorpe and Wolfedale. The 44-year-old novelist studied literature at York University, Brown University and the University of Denver. Her work has been published in The Walrus, St. Petersburg Review and Maisonneuve.
Awad has written more novels since her debut, including Bunny (2019) and All’s Well (2021).
She currently lives in Boston.
If you don’t see yourself (or your children) in books, you might ask creators to be more inclusive or go one step further and create a series of books that tells your stories.
That is exactly what Mississauga-based author Valene Campbell did right as COVID was significantly impacting children around the world.
Campbell, an author and health care professional who has always been passionate about storytelling, launched her Amazing Zoe series in 2020.
The series, which chronicles the adventures of a young Black girl named Zoe, provides children of colour with a protagonist who looks more like them–and educates them about germs, viruses, aging and even history in the process.
Campbell, whose work was recently featured during the Black History 365 Experience at the Art Gallery of Ontario, has published three books in the series: The Amazing Zoe Defeats the Germie Germins, The Amazing Zoe: A Queen Like Me and The Amazing Zoe and Grandma’s Memory Box.
Fran Rider was one of the founders of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association and has proven herself to be quite a powerhouse in the sports industry in Ontario.
She was the first female recipient of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association’s Award of Merit and the first woman to receive the Ontario Hockey Association’s Minor Hockey Service Award.
Rider is a member of both the Mississauga Sports Hall of Fame and the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame. Her contributions have helped shape the world of women’s hockey.
Mississauga inducted Rider into Legend’s Row in 2015, a prestigious ceremony and award that honours the contributions of well-known people who live in or are from the city.
Canadian champion rower Silken Laumann was born in Toronto Township, known today as Mississauga. She has made a name for herself, winning numerous awards and medals, including two gold medals in single sculls rowing at the Pan Am Games, and a gold medal in quadruple sculls at the U.S. championships.
In May of 1992, just as the Olympic Games approached, she was injured in a rowing accident that shattered her right leg. Though she was told by doctors she may never row again, after a mere 27 days and five operations, she was back at it and in August of the same year, she won the bronze medal for Canada.
More than being an Olympian, Laumann is now an author and inspirational speaker and is a symbol of strength and hope.
She was inducted into Legend’s Row in 2014.
Mississauga tennis phenom Bianca Andreescu had an electric year on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour in 2019.
A few years ago, Andreescu saw her WTA ranking skyrocket into the top five in the world. Her rapid ascent was a result of Premier titles at Indian Wells and Rogers Cup, as well as a Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open. Andreescu is the only Canadian in the Open Era, male or female, to win a Grand Slam singles title and the youngest Grand Slam champion since 2004.
She capped off a memorable 2019 with two more prestigious awards–the 2019 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete of the year and the WTA Newcomer of the Year award.
Andreescu’s U.S. Open win also prompted the creation of the She The North Rally at Celebration Square in Mississauga. The September 2019 event attracted thousands, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
In December 2019, Andreescu was also named the Canadian Press female athlete of the year.
Andreescu continues to compete in notable tournaments today.
Joyce May Firman
Believe it or not, Mississauga was home to the first-ever female letter carrier in Ontario!
When Joyce May Firman started work as a letter carrier in Mississauga in 1967, her male co-workers thought she would last less than two weeks.
“They thought she was a bit of a joke — they put her on the toughest beat,” says Firman’s daughter Bonnie Heath.
To the dismay of her male co-workers, Firman made it past those tough first two weeks. She carried heavy loads and came home late, says Heath, who was 12 years old when her mother started work.
At the time, the post office building didn’t even have a women’s washroom.
A few months later, the local union elected her as the first woman secretary.
Despite the challenges, she loved the job. She chatted with people, and seniors would invite her in for tea while the children she met along the route called her “Mrs. Mailman.”
Firman also was an active volunteer with the Royal Canadian Legion Ladies’ Auxiliary in Port Credit. She was awarded the Palm Leaf for meritorious service.
She stayed in Port Credit until her death in 2015 at 94. Her family is working on getting a laneway named after Firman and a postage stamp in her honour.
With files from Declan Finucane and Karen Longwellinsauga's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising