By Joseph Chin
Special to Focus
No doubt about it — students at David Leeder Middle School love their mayor.
Thanks to their enthusiastic nomination, Mayor Hazel McCallion is the recipient of this year’s To The Top Canada Award, which recognizes a Canadian who, through their individual effort, has made this country a better place.
McCallion was at the Meadowvale Village school Thursday morning to pick up the award from Chris Robertson, who, in 1998, became the first person in history to travel from the bottom of mainland Canada 6,520 kilometres to the top of the country under their own power.
The award, now in its eighth year, was established to commemorate that feat by recognizing a Canadian “hero” each year. Past winners include a police officer, special-needs adult, teacher, soldier, ALS victim — and now McCallion.
“I like to call it ‘The People‚’s Choice Award‚’ because Canadians from across the country get to choose the recipient. This year, entire classes from David Leeder wrote in to nominate Mayor McCallion. We’ve never received so many nominations,” said Robertson.
“Hazel has had a positive impact on Canada with her national leadership on municipal affairs. When Hazel speaks, Canada listens.”
Among McCallion’s fans were Grade 8 chums Oneeza Nadeem, Shehmeen Khurram and Brianna Wallbridge.
“She has done us proud,” said Oneeza. “I lived in Brampton before, but Mississauga is so much better because of Hazel.”
Shehmeen agreed with her friend.
“She keeps the city safe … I won’t live anywhere else. We were proud to nominate her,” said the 14-year-old.
“It’s exciting that someone as famous as the mayor, who served the city so well for such a long time, is here at our school,” said Brianna, who first met McCallion years ago when her mom worked at the Living Arts Centre.
Recently, Brianna ran into McCallion again, this time at the Bread & Honey Festival in Streetsville.
“I was marching in the parade with my soccer team and we got to shake her hand afterwards,” she said.
It’s sentiments such as these that caught judges’ eyes, said Robertson.
“One student told us that (McCallion) has a school named after her. Another mentioned the 1979 train derailment; how, thanks to her leadership, every resident survived the disaster,” he said.
“The words clinched the award for Hazel.”
Principal Pat Lewis is proud of her students, who believed they were summoned to the school gym to rehearse for their Grade 8 graduation ceremonies. Instead, they found themselves in the glare of TV cameras.
“I’m impressed how engaged they are in Mississauga politics. They spontaneously stood and applauded when the mayor arrived,” Lewis said.
For her part, McCallion was moved by the welcome from the more than 200 students. They cheered loudly when she was presented with the plaque, which was mounted in the middle of a large Huron snowshoe. It’s the first time the award has been presented in a location other than Parliament Hill.
But McCallion certainly didn’t mind.
“This means more to me — to be with young people to see their passion and enthusiasm,” she said.
By Joseph Chin