On an unusually warm Valentine’s Day 1921, in a family farmhouse in Port Daniel, Quebec, Hazel Mary Muriel was born to Herbert and Amanda Journeaux.
Port Daniel is a sleepy little community on the east coast of the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec, first discovered by the French in 1534. Fast forward to the 1900’s and Herbert Journeaux owns a fish processing plant on the Peninsula, while Amanda Maude Travers was in Montreal training to be a nurse. When Travers returned home to Port Daniel in 1901, she was the first registered nurse in town. The pair married in 1906 and had their first child, Lorne, a year later. The first-born son was followed by Lockhart in 1909, Linda in 1911, Gwen in 1915, and finally Hazel in 1921.
Hazel speaks fondly of those early years, saying “though our family didn’t have a lot, we were never hungry, even during the Great Depression of the 1930s. My only toys during childhood were a doll and a plush bunny, but I can honestly say I was spoiled.”
And though her only toys may have been a doll and a bunny, Hazel does remember the best Christmas present she ever received: a pair of skates. After getting the skates when she was five from her brother Lockhart, Hazel took to the frozen pond to try her hand, or feet, at Canada’s favourite passtime. A great skater himself, Lockhart taught Hazel to skate and, in particular, he taught her how to fall safely.
Interestingly it was actually Lockhart, not Hazel, who as bitten by the political bug first of all. Lockhart became Mayor of Port Daniel West in 1945, and held the position for nearly a decade. “When it came to politics, Lockhart taught me the importance of fighting for your constituents” Sadly, in 1964, Lockhart was involved in a fatal car crash due to icy road conditions. Sadder still, just a few years later the eldest son of the Journeaux family, Lorne, also died in a car crash in Montreal.
Rewinding to earlier days, it was 1937 when Hazel decided it was time to leave Port Daniel. At the age of sixteen, she was forced to leave town to continue her education. Speaking of that crossroads, Hazel is a little sorrowful, “had I known then that it would also mark the end of my living in the Gaspé, except for holidays and visits, it wold have been even more difficult to leave.” However, as is often the case, difficult change can be a positive thing, and such would be the case when Hazel moved in with her sister Linda, in Montreal.
Hazel spent the next while a secretarial school run by the Catholic nuns of the Sisterhood of Notre Dame. This was a good fit because Hazel grew up in a Catholic household and classifies herself as a Christian. During the summers she would travel back to Port Daniel to spend time with her parents. One summer, in the rather eventful 1940, Hazel recounts an astounding story of a visitor to the family home:
One early summer evening, Dad was sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair smoking his pipe. He loved to watch the comings and goings on the road, just down the hill from our house. I went out and joined him for a chat. Soon after I sat down, a smartly dressed man came walking up the path and struck up a conversation with my dad.
We had many strangers in town during the summer tourist season, mostly visitors from the United States or Toronto and Montreal. But this man was not Canadian and he had a slight accent, but his English was flawless. He was pleasant and he asked Dad lots of questions about the area. Both Dad and I thought nothing of it, other than he was a traveller who seemed interested in Port Daniel and the Gaspé coast. Two days later, we heard the very same man was arrested as a German spy in New Carlisle, a few miles down the coast. Imagine that. We were talking to a Nazi spy!
Hazel returned to Montreal after the summer and began her first proper job at the Rolland Paper Company. The lumber company was essentially just her and the owner, Mr. Rolland, and her duties consisted of all the paperwork. It was business as usual for a few months, until all three Journeaux girls living in Montreal got the word that their father had died. Following the funeral, they returned to Montreal once again but it wasn’t long until Hazel had a new job opportunity.
At the age of twenty, Hazel began working for Kellogg Canada. She assumed she was going to be taking a similar secretarial role, however she was actually hired to run the entire office! This was 1941 and the war in Europe was in full swing, however it would be several more months before the attack on Pearl Harbour and the US was forced to join the Allies. Her sister Linda had joined the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRENS), prompting Hazel to volunteer herself. Her boss at the time, Mr. Stiles, found out and blocked her working with the WRENS, citing her work at Kellogg as “essential wartime work”. Hazel was proud to feel so very essential to the company, and it worked out for the best because Kellogg was about to get a big contract.
“More than 90 per cent of the world’s natural rubber supply came from plantations in the Far East when war broke out. Japanese aggression in the region cut the supply to a trickle before stopping it altogether after the attack on Pearl Harbour.” With that in mind, synthetic rubber was invented and Kellogg was contracted by the government to design and build Canada’s first synthetic rubber plant. As part of the contract, Kellogg was required to move its head office to Toronto, and Hazel along with it. Designing and building the plant meant hundred hour work weeks, in a time when Hazel was transitioned into Office Manager while her boss moved to England. By 1944 the plant was up and running, and produced up to 90% of Canada’s rubber by the end of the war! Suffice to say, it was a massive success.
As for her personal life, Hazel, a lifelong fan, had taken up professional hockey in the early 40’s. She played for Kik Cola for two full seasons and was described as “hard-shot”. Despite earning a princely $5 a game, Hazel once had two teeth knocked out via a stick, costing her $60. She jokes that she “broke even” on her short-lived professional career, which ended when she moved to Toronto, where there was no women’s league.
During the summer of 1945, Hazel was living in Toronto’s west end and attending St. Michael and All Angels Church, where she met Sam Robert McCallion. However, it was far from “a whirlwind romance.” The two hard-workers became friends and stayed so until 1949 when they truly fell for one another at a Canadian AYPA camping trip. It would be a further two years before they tied the knot on September 29, 1951. That would also mark the final day of the pair living in Toronto.
After almost 15 years living in the big cities of Montreal and Toronto, I yearned for the rural life that I loved from my early years on the Gaspé. But the reality was that both Sam and I worked in Toronto so we had to be near to the city. Once we found Streetsville we immediately knew it was the place for us.
Over the course of the next decade, Hazel lived in Streetsville and commuted to Toronto every day. Sam on the other hand decided to found a newspaper in 1955; The Streetsville Booster. The pair wound-up having three children during that time; Peter in 1953, Linda in 1958, and Paul in 1964. The constant travelling to Toronto became too much in the 1960’s and Hazel decided it was time.
I’d been at Kellogg for twenty-two years an it was time to leave. Not only was Kellogg’s engineering business slowing, but Sam’s Unique Printing was getting really busy and I wanted to help him manage it and be closer to home and the children.
As for her years at Kellogg, Hazel says she learned the importance of fiscal conservatism, which would benefit her greatly later in life, and she learned something great from her old boss Mr. Stiles: “you’re paid to make decisions, not waffle. Even if you make the wrong decision, you’re paid to make that decision and learn from the mistake.” That’s a sentiment Hazel completely agrees with, “Oftentimes, the worst mistake is delaying and postponing a decision.”
Hazel took up the role of editor and business manager of The Streetsville Booster. Sam saw the purpose of the newspaper as to give citizens a life, because most other news sources were constant misery. However becoming so entrenched in the news led Hazel to discover her love of politics;
The more Sam and I became enmeshed in Streetsville, the more I began to think it’s political leadership as slipping into complacency. There seemed to be the feeling of an old boys network and that things were done certain ways simply because that’s the way they’d always been done. This frustrated me and I made overtures to join the planning board.
And she did just that in 1966, becoming chair of the Streetsville Planning board. She had been bitten by the bug and decided to run for Deputy Reeve of Streetsville. She lost that position to a man named George Parker, a loss she maintains was perhaps down to some dirty tactics on the part of her opposition – like stealing lawn signs. A loss she admits still pains her. However she was able to overturn the defeat a year later and become Deputy Reeve.
A year later Mississauga was formed as a city, with the exclusions of Streetsville and Port Credit. And, while she recognises the plus-sides to the amalgamation of several townships, like sharing services like police, garbage, and money, she was a staunch supported of Streetsville remaining independent. In fact, that was her major campaign basis was Streetsville’s independence. Not just independence, but expansion, actually.
On council, I asked for a consultant’s report to examine Streetsville’s borders and look for other ideas. The experts came back with an idea to push Streetsville’s borders west towards Oakville. We would ask for almost ten thousand acres of land under the jurisdiction of the Town of Mississauga and Oakville and create a much larger Streetsville, with us controlling the growth and development of our independent municipality.
Hazel McCallion became Mayor of Streetsville on January 1st, 1970. She fought tooth and nail for Streetsville’s Independence and expansion, however by 1973 it was clear it would not be happening. Streetsville and Port Credit were both annexed and made part of Mississauga in 1974, something Hazel still has some regrets about.
…I love Mississauga and, I say humbly, my name is synonymous with the city of Mississauga. But had history been different and if Streetsville were given the opportunity to stay independent and grow to the west so that Streetsville, Mississauga, Brampton, and Oakville would all be roughly the same size, would that also not have been a good outcome? Sometimes cities and governments can grow so big that they are beyond the reach of the average person. I am not saying Mississauga is too big, but sometimes I wonder what could have been.
While the union was not preferable, Hazel proudly took Streetsville into it completely debt-free. She was even asked to run for Mayor in that first year but declined and, instead, took a seat on the council. After a few years of sitting on the sidelines, McCallion decided it was high-time she ran for Mayor.
She ran a shrewd campaign against the incumbent Ron Searle. While Searle’s lazy slogan was “A Good Mayor”, Hazel’s sharp retort was simply, “A Better Mayor”. In a time when Mississauga was largely seen as little more than a bedroom for Toronto, Hazel saw much bigger things in its future, and based her campaign around that concept;
My platform was simple: let’s grow, but let’s do it in an orderly, controlled way with the concerns of the people first. Growth must pay its way and the city must be run efficiently, like a business. I promised to be careful with the voters’ money, just as I am always careful with my own money. I spend the taxpayers’ money the way I spend my own, which is seldom and carefully.
As we all know, Hazel McCallion won the election and became the Mayor of Mississauga in 1978 by a mere three thousand votes. What few could ever have predicted however, was that she would remain in that position for 36 years!
While Hazel’s first year in office was quiet and putting things in place for the growth she envisioned, 1979 was significantly louder. Literally. “It was around midnight when my then-teenage son, Paul, climbed u on the roof of our house on Britannia Road in the northern part of Mississauga after we heard a thunderous bang on November 10, 1979. ‘Mom,’ Paul screamed, his eyes focused southward, ‘I think city hall has blown up.'”
Of course, city hall hadn’t blown up. The explosion they heard was from the now-infamous 1979 train derailment in Cooksville. While that terrifying event saw the entire city evacuated for almost a week, not a single person was injured or killed. During that entire week, McCallion slept for a mere 14 hours and showed the grit that endeared her to Mississauga for the rest of her life.
I really don’t think one week can make or break a career. But what that week did show, under intense media scrutiny, was that I always work for the people and the city of Mississauga. I show up for work every day, doing my best for the people of Mississauga, always trying to deliver value for their tax dollars and putting people first.
That event secured re-election for McCallion and allowed her to instil her plans without the stress of campaigning. In fact, her re-election became such a foregone conclusion that she barely ran any campaigns whatsoever in the 90’s and 2000’s.
During which time, growth spread out from Square One Mall, which was deemed the city centre. Things moved quickly with downtown changing from an area with a few fields and cows, to become an urban sprawl with a new city hall by 1987, followed by countless restaurants, a big library, the Living Arts Centre, Sheridan College, and multiple expansions of Square One itself. Further expansion around Mississauga included the Hershey Centre, new bus lines and stations, the Riverwood Conservancy, and the initial stages of the Light Rail Train.
The expansion was so rapid that Hazel became known as the “Queen of Sprawl”, with six thousand permits being issued annually. “We were waking from a slumber, getting the sleep from our eyes and no longer simply a ‘bedroom community’ wearily serving our giant neighbour to the east. Mississauga was becoming a lot more than that.” Amazingly, she ran Mississauga debt-free all the way up until 2012, when the city took on some debt in order to fix ageing infrastructure.
Of course, it’s worth mentioning that Hazel lost her husband Sam in 1997. For years Sam had battled Alzheimer’s and his health deteriorated until he passed due to pneumonia in hospital. It was a difficult time in the life of the entire family, as anyone who has lost a loved one to a disease will know.
Despite the inevitable re-elections, her tenure was not all a simple walk in the park either. There were some controversies, but they aren’t worth getting into for the point of this article. That’s not to say they aren’t interesting or worth exploring, but today is not the day. With that in mind, it’s difficult to surmise just how substantial McCallion’s time in office was, but it’s fair to say that you’d be hard pressed to find a mayor anywhere else in the world that accomplished so much with the consistent backing of their city.
Hazel cites Winston Churchill as an inspiration to her during World War II, saying “I would never compare myself to the great Churchill, but I will say that his stalwart presence during such difficult times made a strong impression on my teenage mind, even if back then I had no idea I would be a politician one day.” Following Churchill, she also loved the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, “Thatcher was also a hero to me. She too did not come from wealth. She grew up living atop the family grocery store. As Prime Minister, the ‘Iron Lady’ spoke plainly and decisively.”
After decades, Hazel did eventually decide to call it a day when she turned 93. She supported her successor, Bonnie Crombie, with whom she shares a vision of Mississauga separating from the Region of Peel. Of course, Crombie has cited Hazel as a huge inspiration for her as a woman, but McCallion doesn’t really believe in girl power.
…some people would like to slot me into a role as feminist, which I am not. I believe in hard work to get ahead, not quotas. As I have told many women’s groups: ‘think like a man, act like a lady, and work like a dog.’
Don’t misunderstand me: I do believe women’s issues are incredible important and I have faced (and done my best to overcome) sexism my entire life. I there were more women in federal and provincial politics in Canada this country would be better off. I just don’t believe in ‘pink quotas’ or tokenism that so many in the feminist movement advocate. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or woman in this day and age. What really matters is how hard you work and how determined you are to reach your goals and fulfil your dreams.
Indeed Hazel refuses to perpetuate the idea that women are held down in the workplace, and she herself is living proof that the cream will always rise to the top. But she isn’t quite done yet. Since stepping down in 2014, McCallion has went on to become a Chancellor of Sheridan College, advisor to University of Toronto, and Special Adviser on Municipal Affairs.
Dr. Judes Porier of McGill University once marvelled at her work ethic and unwillingness to take it easy well into her 90’s. To which Hazel McCallion fittingly replied, “Hold on, doc, I am not one hundred years old yet! But I do plan to be one day.” Hear, hear.