Tom Urbaniak, 37, remembers the fields and working orchards that surrounded the newlybuilt neighbourhood where he grew up in the eastern part of Mississauga.
In those days, the owner of the orchard near Urbaniak’s house would let the resident of the new subdivision walk on his land and pick berries. "(Now) all traces of that are gone. Even the century houses associated with those farms are gone. The patterns of the roads have changed. It was a complete transformation,” he told CTVNews.ca.
Urbaniak was born in the mid-1970s, around the time various townships were merging to form Mississauga and right before Hazel McCallion was first elected mayor of the amalgamated city.
Different township settlements amalgamated in 1968 to form the Town of Mississauga. Port Credit and Streetsville were not a part of the original amalgamation, but the three towns were forced to merge in 1974 as the City of Mississauga.
Now, Urbaniak is a political science professor at Cape Breton University published a book in 2009 all about his home city titled “Her Worship: Hazel McCallion and the Development of Mississauga.”
Urbaniak said Mississauga would have seen massive growth no matter who was in office, but McCallion has a lot to do with the city of almost 800,000 we see now. Voters talk about McCallion running the city like a bank or being a champion of transit and smart growth, but Urbaniak said the key to her success was having her pulse on the people and being flexible.
McCallion is Ontario's longest serving mayor and after 36 years is hanging up the chain at the end of the year. Over that time the region has seen numerous transformations: from farmland to a bedroom community to Canada's sixth largest municipality with downtown skyscrapers.
"It wasn't a city, it was a collection of villages," Steve Mahoney says with a laughs, as he remembers first moving to Mississauga in 1969.
Mahoney has served the residents of Mississauga for more than four decades as a city councillor, MPP and MP and is now running to replace McCallion as mayor. "It was a lot of wide open spaces: cows were roaming the fields where City Hall is now,” he told CTVNews.ca.
Mahoney and his wife first moved to Mississauga from nearby Etobicoke before it was affordable.
"You could buy a home for under $30,000 and no traffic, but you could see it was a city of the future," he said.
History of Mississsauga
The province forced the towns of Mississauga, Streetsville and Port Credit to merge in 1973, forming the city of Mississauga. McCallion was mayor of Streetsville at the time and opposed the merger, instead wanting Streetsville to take control of more land. That's when McCallion began to stand up to provincial politicians and make a name for herself.
She ran for a council seat opposing development, saying not enough attention was being paid to design and amenities, according to Urbaniak.
McCallion changes tunes
"She was very critical of developers," he said. Adding that McCallion once talked about the development of Square One Shopping Centre as "Trying to build an artificial heart for an artificial city."
Buther views began to changeafter she became mayor. She started to embrace the idea of development and charged developers a steep fee. Those fees have allowed Mississauga to run practically debt-free since she was elected mayor.
In the 1980 and 1990s she was running the city like a bank because that was what was popular among voters. Then she sensed people were changing their ideas about what they wanted in a city so she began supporting the ideas of more transit and smart growth.
"She has been extremely pragmatic, even though people see her as principled," said Urbaniak. "For a long time it was hard for cycling advocacy groups to gain a foothold. She changed her view on that and has been seen on a bike herself. But she used to laugh them out of council."
Urbaniak added that her ability to keep her pulse on what people want has a lot to do with her accessibility. She drives herself and doesn't show up with an entourage. Residents see McCallion as being married to the city. They believe she is working 15 hours a day to make life better for them. That kind of political capital has allowed her to survive two major bouts with conflict of interest - one in 1982 where she was found guilty and one during the last election cycle which she was found not guilty.
She has been so popular that she hasn't spent a dime campaigning since 1991. In that year she only spent $4,000. To compare, the top candidates in Toronto will spend about $2 million.
Mississauga now boasts many skyscrapers in the downtown core including the Absolute World (aka Marilyn Monroe) Towers, which won the Emporis Skyscraper Award in 2012, beating out towers in Abu Dhabi and Doha.
But it is also a city with a lot of growing pains. The city has generated a lot of revenue from development fees, but the city is out of greenspaces and now the politicians know the only way to continue development is to build up. But that will be a problem for a future mayor.
McCallion denied interview requests from CTVNews.ca and CTV National News.
This is part one of a two-part series on the past and future of Mississauga. In part two , we speak to the top two candidates and explore the problems of running out of greenfield sites and balancing the books.