The Rev. Harold Percy, a former incumbent at Trinity Anglican Church in Streetsville, Ont., tells a story of the night the church caught fire in 1998. As parish leadership and congregants stood in the parking lot after midnight, watching the fire team try to extinguish the flames, then-mayor of Mississauga Hazel McCallion arrived and stayed through the night with them.
“The firefighters had a canteen there where they had coffee and so on to keep them nourished and Hazel went over and talked to whoever was managing the canteen and came back with coffee for all of us,” he says. “It was a small thing, but it was a big thing.”
When the fire was extinguished, Trinity Streetsville had to be rebuilt from the ground up, he says. So McCallion organized a fundraising Gala to help. Proceeds totaled close to $100,000, he says.
The dedication she showed during and after the fire was emblematic of the former mayor’s 80-year membership at Trinity Streetsville and her lifelong connection with the Anglican church, says Percy.
Born in 1921 in Port Daniel, Que., McCallion went to school in Montreal and arrived in Toronto in 1942, when she was transferred there by her then-employer, an engineering and contracting firm. Years before she was elected mayor of Mississauga—the first woman to hold the office—McCallion was the first female president of the Anglican Young People’s Association, a national group that organized fellowship, worship and community service until the 1960s. The founding principles of the organization, which she helmed for two years beginning in 1949, informed both her work as a politician and her faith as a parishioner in the Anglican Church of Canada, former primate Archbishop Andrew Hutchison said in a speech when McCallion was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2006.
“You may wonder where the seemingly inexhaustible energy for public service comes [from] to keep a woman in her 85th year working 12-hour days with no thought of retirement. It comes, I believe, in significant measure from a life grounded in the four principals of worship, work, fellowship and edification,” he said, referring to the AYPA’s four guiding ideas.
McCallion herself expressed a similar sentiment in her 1951 farewell message in the AYPA’s newsletter.
“I have found the four principles of our association to be my way of life,” she wrote.
That life would see her through a stint in professional hockey in the early 40s (paid, reportedly, $5 per game), a Streetsville publishing business in partnership with husband Sam McCallion (whom she first met at an Anglican church) and eventually a political career as first reeve and then mayor of Streetsville. McCallion was mayor of Streetsville until it became a part of the newly incorporated city of Mississauga, which she then served as city councillor before spending a record 36 years as its mayor. She was also a longtime parishioner at Trinity Streetsville from the 1950s until her death on Jan. 29 of this year. She was 101 years old.
While she was a famous, industrious and sometimes controversial figure throughout a political career that kept her constantly busy, her fellow parishioners also remember McCallion as someone who always made time to forge connections and maintain her relationships with the people in her local community.
Ida Dundas, now in her 90s, remembers going door-knocking on McCallion’s behalf with other parishioners during an election campaign early in her career.
Another parishioner, Jim Flack, remembered McCallion dropping in on his coffee group, called “Muffins,” beginning in the early 1970s, where she would join “a bunch of old guys” in discussing city issues and local sports victories.
“I appreciate her honesty. I appreciate that she would admit when she made a mistake or she was wrong—which goes with honesty,” he said, when asked how he’d like her to be remembered. “And of course her energy. Even at 100 years of age, she was still going like a battery.”
His wife, Sue Flack, told the Journal a story from when her son, MPP Rob Flack was first elected to office.
“The day of his swearing in they were down at Queen’s Park, of course. And Robby was quite excited because as a young boy, she was the mayor of his town and he was following her career, so he went up and introduced himself to Hazel and she said, ‘Oh yes, you’re Robby, Jimmy’s son.’ It was nice of her to remember that,” Flack said. “She remembered everybody, and remembered their names.”
The last time the Flacks saw McCallion was at church just before Christmas.
Last fall, Trinity Streetsville began work on a cemetery restoration project, the centrepiece of which is the Sam and Hazel McCallion Prayer Garden, says Trinity Streetsville’s current incumbent, the Rev. Rob Hurkmans.
“Sam and Hazel McCallion worked closely with the business community for many years to build our city. Their efforts brought about the growth and development that made our community an economically diverse and vibrant magnet for people from all over the world. Now, it’s time to reflect on their contributions and honour them with a beautiful grace note,” read the promotional materials for the garden.