Mississauga's Mayor Hazel McCallion marked her 88th birthday being serenaded by the "Heart and Soulz" choir from a high school named after her while at a heart health centre named after her.

McCallion unveiled signage at the Hazel McCallion Centre for Heart Health at the Trillium Health Centre on Saturday.

"I can't think of a better way to celebrate my 88th birthday," she said.

She asked for people to make donations in lieu of birthday gifts to the centre.

Born in the Gaspe Peninsula town of Port Daniel, Que. in 1921, work brought McCallion to Ontario.

Her involvement in civic politics began in 1967. McCallion has served as mayor of Mississauga since 1978, marking her 30th anniversary in November. Since then, the city has grown from about 300,000 people to more than 700,000.

She made a name for herself early on when a freight train pulling tanker cars full of toxic chlorine gas derailed on Nov. 10, 1979, forcing the evacuation of 220,000 people.

McCallion sprained an ankle at one point during the crisis and got about on crutches. Her dynamism earned her the nickname "Hurricane Hazel."

Her husband Sam died in 1997. She has three children and a granddaughter.

Son Paul said his mother is still going strong because she has passion for her public duties, with a day that starts at 6 a.m. and ends at midnight.

"This is what she does. She enjoys it so much, she has so much spirit for it, that it's what makes her get up in the morning," he said, adding, "She goes better than I do -- and I'm 40 years younger!"

"I know there are some people who would like her job, but she's not about to step aside and hand it to them -- and they're not foolish enough to run against her," said radio broadcaster Ted Woloshyn, a friend of McCallion's.

The mayor offered this advice to potential successors.

"I would say offer themselves to the people. I always have respect for the choice of the people," McCallion said, adding she will run again if her health permits.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Zuraidah Alman and files from The Canadian Press