On what would have been former Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion’s 102nd birthday, legions of admirers gathered to celebrate her life at a state funeral dubbed by the MC as the “largest birthday party ever.”
It was a star-studded affair, planned in detail by McCallion herself, said MC Jim Murray, noting she chose the speakers and songs.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Doug Ford, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie and former prime minister Jean Chrétien were among the dignitaries assigned floor seating at Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga. The stands were filled with police officers, RCMP and Mississauga residents.
Although McCallion could not live forever, Trudeau said, her legacy will. “She wouldn’t let anything stop her, ever.”
McCallion, who served as mayor of Mississauga for 36 years, died of pancreatic cancer on Jan. 29.
Ford talked about how McCallion dedicated her life to building Mississauga, mentioning how the city looked barren when her reign began and how developed it was by the time she retired.
Former prime minister Chrétien hadn’t made a speech in awhile, but when McCallion asked him to speak at her funeral, he said he knew he had to. Chrétien recalled a meeting with McCallion where they promised to retire together. Once he ended his career at age 70, Chrétien said, “Hazel called me and gave me hell.” McCallion retired from office at age 92.
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Both from River, Que., Chrétien said McCallion was one-of-a-kind, calling himself a chicken compared to her because “I am not as tough as you are.”
Current Mississauga Mayor Crombie, who was endorsed by McCallion after her retirement, said: “Hazel was the ‘Mrs.’ in ‘Mississauga,’ and it will not be the same without her.”
The funeral was attended by both older people who witnessed her reign from the beginning and young people who admired her legacy. Bilal Bakri, 31, wore a shirt that read “Mrs.Sauga” with McCallion’s face on it. Bakri called McCallion an “icon” and “the most well-known Mississaugian ever.”
“The shirt represents hurricane Hazel and Mississauga. That’s her name, and I hope that’s what she is going to be known for in the future,” the teacher said.
Bakri said he found the shirt on Google but knew McCallion was going to be an icon decades ago after attending a school named after her. “She was one of the first few names I learned as a kid being born here. She’s an icon and an inspiration all the way to the last weeks of her life. Her no-nonsense, hard-working attitude is a huge inspiration for everybody.”
Members of the gold medal-winning Canadian women’s hockey team were pallbearers in the ceremony. McCallion’s best friend and CEO of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association, Fran Rider, said McCallion would have loved that the players were there because of her passion for hockey and women in leadership roles.
McCallion led the way for women in both business and politics, Crombie said, recalling McCallion often saying to her, “Think like a lady, act like a man and work like a dog.”
Nairah Ahmed / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer