Iconic Ontario politician, who first held office in 1967, shares her secrets
BY NATE SMELLE
There are few politicians who garner the type of respect as does “Hurricane” Hazel McCallion. Serving as Mayor of Mississauga from 1978 until 2014, and as Reeve and Deputy Reeve of Streetsville from 1967 until 1973, McCallion has earned her place in history as an icon of Canadian politics. With so many accomplishments in life, one might think that the 96 year old would be showing signs of slowing down. Well, anyone who had the chance to catch her keynote address at the Celebrating Age-Friendly Niagara Forum last Wednesday knows this is not the case.
The crowd of 300-plus in attendance for her talk at Amici’s Banquet and Convention Centre in Thorold listened intently as she shared with them her lifetime of wisdom.
“Don’t think about aging, because there is no such thing as aging,” said McCallion.
“It’s up to you — each and every one of you — to make a difference. Don’t fear the future, don’t fear your future, don’t fear the future of our country. Do something about it and shape it, shape your life, shape your community and shape your country.”
On several occasions during her talk, McCallion advised the audience of elders that a good way to age well was to not consider yourself as old. One way to do this, she said was to not look at retirement as retirement, but instead as a change of jobs. Changing jobs is something people do throughout their entire lives, she said. Reflecting on the many times she had changed jobs herself, McCallion said she has come to see life as a highway.
“We start on this highway at a very young age, as a baby, then we grow up to be a young person, then an adult and then they call us seniors,” she said laughing.
“I don’t know what a senior is, because you can be a senior at 65 or you can be a senior at 100. That highway is a rough road at times because anybody who goes along that highway is going to run into problems. There are going to be detours and some of those detours are not the best things. But every time there’s a detour we become more confident and more capable of dealing with the next detour, because life is an experience.”
This lesson especially holds true for youth today, McCallion said, because the idea of remaining with one company or job until retirement doesn’t exist anymore. Because many people nowadays change jobs four or five times throughout their life, she said it is essential for people to be happy with their occupation. McCallion said she was happy to be the Mayor of Mississauga, and for that reason she was determined to be the best mayor the city ever had.
“You have to live your life with passion,” McCallion declared.
“Passion is extremely important. If you love the job that you have, then you will never work another day because you love to get up in the morning and you’re happy to go to whatever responsibilities you have. You’ve got to be happy. I believe that if you give your best to what you do, the best will come back to you.”
No matter what it is that one does in life, McCallion said it is always wise to plan ahead for the future, because good planning brings success in business, in managing a city and in living one’s life. When taking on a new job or starting a new chapter in one’s life, she sees planning as the key to making intelligent decisions. The story of Noah’s Ark is a good lesson in the value of planning ahead, proclaimed McCallion.
“Good advice for those who are aging—don’t miss the boat, and remember that it wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark,” she said.
“That gets me to climate change. It’s time we prepared for the flooding that is occurring. It’s very serious. I don’t know what the rivers down here are like but we’ve had to close places along the Credit River because of the high water and the flooding. Like I said, plan ahead. Noah built the ark before the rain came, but we’re not too good at planning ahead in Canada.”
Before planning, she said people need to do their homework. Though McCallion left school long ago, she has never stopped doing her homework. Doing her homework helps her to keep an active mind. Keeping an active mind is another effective way for people to stay young as they age, she said. Throwing a little shade at U.S. President Donald Trump, McCallion revealed that she had been doing some homework on the tumultuous state of politics in the United States.
“The mind is extremely important, so read — watching TV is not the best. They say if you want to become depressed, watch TV. Nobody wants to become depressed, but with what’s happening around the world there is certainly nothing to be proud of or happy about — especially today with the President of the United States. You know when I was 13 my mother told me anybody could become President of the United States. Well, it took 96 years for that to happen.”
Not wanting to spend much time on the unnatural disaster they call The Donald, McCallion stressed the importance of remaining positive. Simply put, dwelling on negativity and associating with negative people speeds up the process of aging. During her time as mayor, McCallion recalls one woman who kept calling in to raise a fuss over the dandelions blooming along one of the boulevards in Mississauga. When this woman scolded her, asking why the city had done nothing to stop the dandelions from blooming when she was able to keep her own lawn dandelion-free, McCallion said she remarked to the woman how beautiful the little yellow flowers are. She said people can stay young as they age by ignoring the critics and focusing their minds on doing their best.
“People love to complain and they complain about everything — even the good things,” she said.
“Somebody can always find a reason to complain. You know what will age you more than anything? Always looking to criticize something — criticize your family, criticize your friends, criticize the way the services are provided — because you become negative. It’s so much easier to be positive. People that are negative are not happy. They find things wrong with everything.”
While keeping the mind active is a very important component of staying young, so is remaining physically active. This is where one’s community can play a huge role. Volunteering is an excellent way to keep the mind and the body moving, she explained. When speaking with newcomers to Canada, McCallion makes a point of telling them how this country has become what it is today because of volunteerism.
“Each and every one of us can do something for our community in some way or another,” McCallion said.
“Of course, we can all do things for other people. It’s so simple and we feel so good about it. That keeps us from aging as well. It is so important to make every day count. We want to be a contributor to the future of our community and the future of this great country of Canada. So, it’s up to us to take charge, with confidence and with the desire and the commitment to give everything we can while we’re here.”