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Jun. 25, 2019 | Tuesday
Local News
Seven hours with Hazel McCallion
Barbara Wall, Betty Disero and Hazel McCallion. (Ross Robinson/Submitted)

Fasten your seatbelts, son.

I will attempt to limn a fabulous seven hours with Hazel McCallion on Dec. 3.

Scattered thoughts and streams of consciousness; how to capture the energy and positivity of that road trip?

After Betty Disero was elected the first female Lord Mayor of NOTL, a front-page piece appeared in the Toronto Sun featuring Disero and NOTL. The next morning, Hazel called Disero to congratulate her and ask to attend the Council Inaugural Meeting on Dec. 3.

Disero arranged for Hazel to get to and from the meeting.

“Hazel and I did a lot of work together during my 18 years as councillor in Toronto, A.M.O., etc. She wants to be here on Dec. 3. We will organize a car to get her here and back.”

I told her not to worry about that. “I am your humble and enthusiastic chauffeur. My son Scott, current vice president of Finance at McMaster University’s Student Union, might want to join us. What a fun opportunity.”

The date was set.

On the afternoon of Dec. 3, at 2:30 p.m., I picked Scott up from McMaster and headed to Hazel’s house where Joy Journeaux, Hazel’s niece visiting from Gaspe, answered the door. Looking over my shoulder, she commented on the snow.

“Look how beautiful the snowflakes are. I love this time of year.”

Most people would have said, “Oh darn, I hope the highways won’t be slippery. It’s a long drive to Niagara.”

This was the first positive comment of the evening. For the next seven hours, only positive words and thoughts; no health comments, no organ recitals, no bad weather.

Hazel was on the telephone in the kitchen, solving problems and helping people, as she does.

“I get the two people in a room with me and tell them to solve the problem. I have thrown many lawyers and politicians out of rooms.”

As we left, I asked how she would like to be addressed, “Will Scott and I be calling you Mrs. McCallion or Mayor McCallion?”

Hazel replied, “You and Scott will call me Hazel.”

She is gracious, enthusiastic, personable, patient – a rock star in her own right. Commenting on gas prices, road signs and adding matter-of-fact opinions about the state of the community during the trip.

Driving, I missed a turn from Erin Mills onto Hwy 403.

Hazel remarked, “I have called the Roads Department twice to get that sign fixed.”

I mentioned the new Credit Valley Hospital. “I suppose you had a lot to do with that project, Hazel.”

She said they started planning that hospital 40 years ago on her kitchen table. Now, in the main foyer of the hospital, her table is on a display.

I asked about her leaving Gaspe when she was 19.

“Yes, Depression was ending. I went to Quebec City, then Montreal, business college. Got a job making $12 a week. $8 went to room and board, so I had $4 a week left.”

She played hockey on girl’s teams. “It cost $5 per game. Great fun. The spectators loved it. We were good.”

Passing a Petro Canada, Hazel commented on the price, “A dollar 12.”

She loves speaking to the new generations, “Now, as Chancellor of Sheridan College, I get to hand out 2,200 diplomas each spring, to great young people from around the world. The President loves when I tell the graduates, ‘a lot of you kids wear ragged clothes and jeans to make an impression, I wore ragged clothes because of the depression.”

My mantra has always been to never talk to a celebrity about what they are a celebrity about, but a few gems were proffered.

“Make developers pay. Previous residents paid for infrastructure, future residents will use the roads, water, sewers, etc., so make them pay. Mississauga has been debt free. Last year, $35 million converting to LED lighting, will be paid off in three years. I tell people I spend their tax money like I spend my money; seldom.”

She spoke of international residents and regulations, “Integration. Make them abide by our rules. In India, they don’t change the rules for us if we move there. We started Folk Arts Celebration with four nationalities. Now there’s 49. About 40 years ago, there was a big war in Croatia and Serbia. At our festival, the Serbians and Croatians were working together, sharing a tent and a BBQ, side by side.”

We pass a Shell gas station. Hazel, sotto voce, “A dollar nine. Cheap here.”

I asked how she learned how to deal with so many competing pressures, everybody looking for something. “I grew into the job,” she said.

She is a director of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority. Taking a ten-day trip to observe major airports in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai and London, she was often the only woman in meeting and reception rooms.

In NOTL, I avoid driving along Mississagua Street so Hazel won’t be upset at misspelling of the name.

We pass another Petro Canada. Hazel comments, “A dollar 14. Gas price is high here.”

We arrive at the Shaw Festival Theatre Green Room. Hazel, Scott and I enjoy Subway sandwiches, Pepsi, and, somehow, Betty has remembered my request for a couple of cans of Oast House Barnraiser beer.

I thought, “The details, the details; Betty is a Champ.”

Disero brought new councillors to meet Hazel. Her advice, “Do your homework!”

I timed Hazel’s arrival at the top of the Festival Theatre for 5 to 7 p.m. The theatre had a big crowd and an electric atmosphere. There were about 650 people in attendance.

Former Toronto Mayor Barbara Hall was there, as well as Sharma and a group of her former constituents from Toronto, to present garlands as a gesture of love and respect.

As Hazel descended the steps, the crowd rose; an enthusiastic standing ovation. Mick Jagger is an aging rock star - Hazel McCallion is a rock star, with lots and lots more to accomplish.

The NOTL Council Inauguration Meeting was perfectly executed.

Respectful, vibrant, timely, traditional. “God Save the Queen.”

Lord Mayor Betty Disero’s speech was spot on and touched all the bases.

Disero spoke to the crowd, “We will find common ground to reach higher ground.”

Hazel gave her 100 per cent.

As we returned to the car for the trip home, Scott opened the rear door for Hazel.

She objected, “You are in the back on the way home, Scott. I want to sit in the front seat. Your Dad and I have a lot to talk about.”

Nearing the end of our drive back to her place, I missed two more turns. I wasn’t paying attention, on adrenaline. I could have driven all the way to North Bay.

We had been discussing driverless cars and autonomous vehicles. Hazel had a big meeting at Ford in morning.

Scott commented on my driving, “Mrs. McCallion, my Dad isn’t a great driver at the best of times.”

I wonder if I would be a better driver in a driverless car. Hazel laughed heartily and said she will use that line at her Ford meeting in morning.

We dropped Hazel at her front door at 10:15 p.m.

I will always regard it as one of my life’s special adventures and experiences.