'She's still one of us': New exhibit pays tribute to Mississauga's longest-serving mayor
TORONTO -- A new exhibit in Mississauga, Ont. honours the life of the city's most memorable mayor Hazel McCallion.
The exhibit is called 'Hazel: 100 Years of Memories", and those memories are still very vivid for the woman who lived them.
"I thought when I retired as mayor in 2014 that I would just disappear from the scene," McCallion told CTV News.
But in the seven years since she left office, McCallion has remained a key figure in the city she calls home. Dozens of people gathered Tuesday to help her open a new exhibit dedicated to her life and work.
"You look back and you think what did you do and how did you accomplish it," McCallion told a crowd of supporters ahead of a ribbon cutting ceremony to launch the new exhibition.
Inside a vacant store in Erin Mills Town Centre, visitors can literally walk through McCallion's life. From her childhood, to her career in politics, to her countless charitable endeavours. Documents, artifacts, photos, and videos help tell the story.
"We were able to bring things together from so many different areas- we had help from museums in Mississauga, from the heritage society, from Hazel herself and even individuals who brought in things that were just really significant and special," Curator Madeleine Van Duzer told CTV News Toronto.
There are items from her office, portraits, letters from royalty, even a bottle of pop given to her in 1941.
Among Van Duzer's favourite artifacts is a campaign sign from McCallion's first campaign for mayor of Mississauga in 1978.
"Many people know Hazel didn’t bother with campaign signs after the first election or so" Van Duzer said. "At that time she was running against I believe Ron Searle and his slogan … for the election was 'a good mayor' and so a little bit before the election Hazel came out with her own slogan which was 'a better mayor' and people apparently agreed."
McCallion was first elected deputy reeve of Streetsville in 1967, and appointed reeve the following year. She was elected mayor of that town in 1970 and worked hard, though ultimately unsuccessfully, to keep Streetsville from being amalgamated as part of Mississauga. She was acclaimed to city council in Mississauga in 1976, and in 1978 she was elected mayor—a position she held for 36 years.
'100 Years of Memories' is being staged with the assistance of the Art Gallery of Mississauga. For Leslie Silvestri, the President of the gallery's board of directors, the exhibit is all about exploring the story behind the woman.
"Who is this woman?" Silvestri asked. "Where did she come from? What drives her? What makes her who she is?"
Silvestri said creating an exhibition featuring a still-living subject, allowed those behind it to gain unique insights into the pieces and their role in history. Many of those artifacts came from McCallion's home.
"The things that you see here, they’re not replicated items," said Silvestri. "?They are actually items that belong to Hazel."
McCallion turned 100 years old in February of this year, and those behind the exhibition had hoped to open it as part of her birthday celebrations, but pandemic restrictions prevented it from being opened to the public until now.
The centenarian told reporters that while the exhibit may focus on her story, the real story is that of the city itself.
"No one person does it alone," said McCallion, "it’s a whole team of effort and the citizens play a major role so if you have the citizens on your side you can build a city as we have."
The free exhibit will run until at least the end of February.