His ardor earned him the reputation of “Hazel the Hurricane”. “I don’t know how I got that nickname…I know I move fast,” she laughed in an interview with AFP in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto. she directed and who organizes an exhibition on her life.
This workaholic, whom nothing seems to stop, says he has a mantra in life: “Work, do your homework”.
“Working hard never killed anyone, that’s what my mother taught me. If you want to achieve your goals, you have to work hard”, advises this small white-haired woman, installed cross-legged on a chair at toggle.
Born in 1921 in Port-Daniel, a coastal village in eastern Quebec, Hazel is the youngest of five children. Her father works in the fishing industry; his mother is a nurse.
At 16, she left the family farm to continue her education before resigning herself to joining a secretarial school, for lack of resources. Her career began during the Second World War in an engineering company where she worked for more than 20 years.
At the same time, she played in a professional women’s hockey team in Montreal, paid 5 dollars a game, a generous sum at the time. This fan of the Maple Leafs, the Toronto team, will leave two teeth there.
In 1951, she married Sam McCallion with whom she had three children.
“She wasn’t always there, but she was when needed,” says one of her sons, Peter, describing a “wonderful” grandmother to her only granddaughter.
– Political retirement at 93 –
Inspired by former Ottawa mayor Charlotte Whitton, the first female mayor of a major city in Canada, and by Margaret Thatcher, she chose to enter politics in the 1960s.
In 1978, she won the mayoralty of Mississauga in part due to her indifference to her opponent’s sexist comments.
However, today she cuts short any discussion on the subject: “It was not difficult at all. I was supported by men both in the business world and in political life”, declares she, considering herself “very lucky”.
It has deeply marked the history of Mississauga, a city of more than 700,000 inhabitants today, which has radically changed its face in a few decades.
During her first year as mayor, she had to deal with a major railway accident: the derailment and then the explosion of a train loaded with toxic products.
Nearly 220,000 inhabitants, or three quarters of the city, were evacuated in an emergency and there were no deaths or serious injuries. The “Miracle of Mississauga” gives it national stature.
“To live a happy life, you have to be very positive and feel that you are acting. You can’t think of yourself all the time,” she slips to explain her commitment.
In office for twelve terms, she holds a longevity record, which is partly due to “her very down-to-earth populism”, “her accessibility” and “her outspokenness”, explains Tom Urbaniak, author of a book on the development of the city.
“Hazel McCallion leans towards conservatism but she is extremely pragmatic. Over the decades, she has changed her mind often according to public opinion”, indicates this professor of politics at the University of Cape Breton (Nova Scotia, eastern Canada) who recalls that she has “supported various political parties”.
The one who considers herself a “builder” won the title of “Canada’s most popular mayor” in 2011, three years before retiring from politics at the age of 93.
A stamp collector, Hazel McCallion also enjoys gardening and shooting videos for charities. She remains attentive to current events and wears, attached to her jacket, a yellow and blue ribbon in the colors of Ukraine.
“I have lived 100 years and I have never been so pessimistic about what is happening in the world today,” she says.