Mississauga, and the country, says final goodbye to ‘Hurricane Hazel’


Published February 14, 2023 at 3:27 pm

There were plenty of tears, to be sure, but also much laughter at the state funeral today for former Mississauga mayor, Canadian political icon and good friend to many Hazel McCallion.

And there was a good deal of talk about hockey, too. Just as “Hurricane Hazel” would have wanted.

Soothing voices singing Amazing Grace and another McCallion favourite, Danny Boy, were part of the grand send-off as well.

On the day Madam Mayor, Mississauga’s matriarch, would have turned 102, dignitaries from across Ontario and Canada, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, many friends and McCallion’s family instead gathered with several thousand others inside the Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga to bid a final farewell to the woman who served dynamically and with fierce loyalty, to say the least, as Mississauga mayor for 36 years.

McCallion, as powerful a political force as this country has seen at any level of government during her three-and-a-half decades in office, died on Jan. 29 after a month-long battle with pancreatic cancer.

She leaves behind her three children–Peter, Linda and Paul–and lone grandchild, Erica.

As the many speakers took their turns at today’s service talking about precious moments they had shared with McCallion, both professional and personal experiences, several clear themes emerged.

Among them were mentions of McCallion’s fierce, combative spirit that stood up for all things Mississauga, and family. On the flip side, speaker after speaker noted, was a kind and fair person who took the time to get to know as many people as she could, oftentimes over an early-morning Saturday (or weekday) breakfast at a favourite Mississauga restaurant.

Tough but fair, uncompromising yet kind, a hardened fighter, but compassionate friend, mother. A trailblazer.

Oh, and prepared. For anything and everyone she encountered.

Hazel McCallion, it is said by the masses, did her homework, as she so famously, and often, demanded of others in her presence.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in his remarks, described the longtime mayor who made her first and lasting mark during the Mississauga train derailment of 1979 as “so unstoppable.”

“I think we all felt she was going to live forever,” Trudeau told those in attendance, adding McCallion was fierce, passionate and always engaged in matters and issues of the day.

The prime minister then shared a story detailing a chance meeting he had with “Hurricane Hazel” some 15 or so years ago in Italy.

His own children telling him last year that, at age 50, he was too old to bungee jump, Trudeau told them of a friend of his named Hazel who would put that idea quickly to rest.

“I ran into Hazel (in Italy) and joined her on one of the longest, highest and fastest zip lines in the world…between two mountain peaks,” Trudeau said, adding the diminutive but tough-as-nails McCallion was in her late 80s when she zipped across the dizzying height and back.

At the time, Trudeau added, she was one of the oldest people ever to complete that terrifying-to-most zip line trip.

“That’s just who Hazel was, though,” he said, concluding his remarks. “She wouldn’t let anything stop her. Ever.”

McCallion’s longtime friend, Jim Murray, served as host of the memorial service.

Speaking fondly of his close friend, and with notes of humour here and there, Murray told the gathering near the ceremony’s end how important McCallion’s family was to her.

“A very close family,” Murray said succinctly, adding the longtime mayor’s grown children were there with her till the end.

Peter, the eldest of McCallion’s children, would drive his mother everywhere to both professional and personal engagements in the many years since she gave up her licence, Murray said.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who took the reins when McCallion retired in 2014, said in her remarks that her predecessor and mentor touched the lives of many, both in Mississauga and well beyond.

She also summed up Mississauga’s matriarch in this way:

“Being a mayor may have been her calling, but hockey was her passion,” Crombie said, referencing McCallion’s lifelong love affair with hockey, particularly women’s hockey.

Mississauga’s feisty mayor of three-plus decades played pro hockey in her youth and remained always a fan.

Crombie said it was fitting that McCallion be remembered inside the Paramount Fine Foods Centre, home to the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.

It’s a place where she was known to sneak away for a private skate, Crombie laughed.

“And she never missed an opportunity to cheer on Canadian women in sport,” Mississauga’s sixth mayor continued.

“She was our matriarch, the architect of our city…she built our city in her vision,” said Crombie, noting Mississauga’s many impressive buildings, parks and open spaces.

McCallion was at the helm as Mississauga transformed from “farmland and fruit trees” to Canada’s seventh-largest city and the envy of many, both in Canada and abroad, said Crombie.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford spoke about a woman he described as both a mentor and friend. He said he had a couple of hours to speak with McCallion shortly before she died.

“Hazel McCallion was a giant,” Ford began his public remarks, noting there wasn’t a “person who met Hazel who wasn’t in awe” of her and “everyone knew Hazel was a force to be reckoned with.”

Ford said McCallion, in her 36 years as mayor, never lost sight of why she entered public life to begin with–to serve the people.

“She was always fighting for the underdog, the people who never had a champion,” Ford continued. “She was a legend, an icon. She was Hurricane Hazel.

“Hazel, happy birthday.”

Ford concluded by noting that “Mississauga is a better city, Ontario a better province and Canada a better country because of Hazel.

“May God bless the greatest mayor this country has ever seen.”

Former prime minister Jean Chretien, who became good friends with McCallion over the years, quipped at the outset of his comments that McCallion’s voice in his head was telling him to not carry on for too long with his remarks.

“Jean, keep it clear and keep it short. Just like me,” Chretien related to the audience, which elicited widespread laughter.

On a more serious note, Chretien described Mississauga’s longtime pugnacious mayor as “one of a kind.”

He added that in all his travels around the globe meeting world leaders, he “never met any politician like Hazel. Very clear, determined, hard working, no nonsense and successful.”

And, the former PM added, “she had a big heart. It’s no coincidence she was born on Feb. 14.”

In lieu of flowers, the McCallion family has asked that donations be made to Trillium Health Partners Foundation or the Hazel McCallion Charitable Foundation for Arts, Culture and Heritage.

Hazel McCallion

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