Books·First Look

Candy Palmater's posthumous memoir Running Down a Dream looks at life, love and laughter — read an excerpt now

The New Brunswick-born Indigenous writer-actor, comedian and broadcaster died on Dec. 25, 2021 at the age of 53. Her memoir, Running Down a Dream, will be available on Oct. 18, 2022.

See the cover and read an excerpt. Running Down a Dream will be available on Oct. 18, 2022

Candy Palmater was a Canadian comedian, actor and broadcaster. (The Candy Show)

Running Down a Dream is a forthcoming memoir by Candy Palmater, the engaging New Brunswick-born Indigenous writer, actor, comedian and broadcaster who died on Dec. 25, 2021 at the age of 53.

In Running Down a DreamPalmater recounts her life journey — the highs, the lows, the moments of doubt, the turning points when she listened to her gut and tuned out all the people saying no. It's also a tribute to her family and the love that always bolstered her, despite their own hard times.

The memoir reflects on life and love to inspire readers to embrace both success and failure, and to believe in themselves.

Palmater was a band member of Ugpi'ganjig, a Mi'kmaw First Nation in northern New Brunswick formerly called Eel River Bar. She attended the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, where she is said to have been the first Indigenous law student in Canada to be valedictorian of her graduating class.

After a brief stint as a practicing lawyer, Palmater left for a job with the Nova Scotia government, which left her evenings free to pursue her comic ambitions. 

Palmater created and hosted the award-winning The Candy Show on APTN, was a regular co-host on CTV's afternoon talk show The Social and acted in TV shows, including Trailer Park Boys. She also hosted The Candy Palmater Show on CBC Radio One and championed The Break by Katherena Vermette on Canada Reads 2017.

She once described herself as "a gay, native, recovered-lawyer-turned-feminist-comic who was raised by bikers in the wilds of northern New Brunswick."

Running Down a Dream is all about unconditional love, Denise Tompkins, Palmater's partner and manager, told CBC Books by email. "Candy's story is a gem she simply had to share, for if it can help even just one person, she would feel she made a difference," Tompkins said.

"No matter the differences, the adversity and the drama that comes in all families ... the undertone of this story is love. Without it, Candy would not have been who she was. Sacrifices were made; the great stories of each one of their lives shaped the familial bond that never could be broken," she added.

"To understand the great human that Candy was, who reached millions over the years with all she did, it makes sense to know the backstory. This book is a precious part of the continued story of Candy — a legacy, and one that has many great teachable lessons."

LISTEN | Candy Palmater remembered on Information Morning Fredericton:

A Mi'kmaw First Nation in northern NB is paying tribute to a member of their community. Former lawyer turned comedian, TV and radio personality Candy Palmater died last weekend. Sacha LaBillois is chief of Ugpi'ganjig, formerly Eel River Bar First Nation and she speaks with host Vanessa Blanch about Palmater's connection to the community.

"Candy always wanted people to know that every one one of us is unique, is perfect the way we were made — even when we are told otherwise. To traverse the life game, we all need supporting players. Candy wanted to share with the world how special her key players (her family by blood and extended) were who provided that support," Tompkins said.

"Everyone has the ability to forge beautiful bonds, even in the deepest and darkest moments. No one, and nothing, is a lost cause."

Running Down a Dream will be available on Oct. 18, 2022.

You can read an excerpt from the book below.


 

My great-grandfather was Louis Thomas Jerome. He was the last hereditary chief in Eel River Bar. At that time, the reserve wasn't located where it is now. It was further down the road in a little place called New Mills. As part of the colonization process, many First Nations in Canada had their land taken and were moved to less valuable bases. Eel River Bar did not escape upheaval. The community was moved from New Mills to the spot where it is located today.

Traditionally, chiefs assumed power through heredity. As I said, my great-grandfather was the last to hold a hereditary chief position in Eel River Bar. Through the Indian Act, the hereditary system was replaced with an electoral system. That system, as legally prescribed to First Nation communities, has created many of the modern-day problems that affect Indigenous peoples. An electoral process is debilitatingly costly and creates an environment ripe for nepotism when it's forced on small communities every two years (which was the case for decades).

I got my height from my mother's side of the family. Those daughters were small, but they were pretty tough.

My great-grandfather had six children, all girls. Not one of his daughters grew taller than five feet. Obviously, at five foot ten, I got my height from my mother's side of the family. Those daughters were small, but they were pretty tough. My grandmother was one of those six. Her name was Greta. She married a white man from Toledo, Ohio, named William Palmater. When she married him, according to the law of the time, she lost her status and had to leave the community. Palmater was a logger and a drinker.

The New Brunswick International Pulp and Paper Mill had steady work for loggers in the woods surrounding Dalhousie, so he spent a lot of time in the bush, and my grandmother spent a lot of time with other men. She had four sons and a daughter. My dad was the second youngest. The oldest was Frank, then Uncle Lummy (actually, Walter—I didn't find out Lummy was a nickname until I was seventeen!). Then there was a daughter named Dolly, my dad, then his younger brother, John. Although this is mostly family story and not proven, it seems that not all of my grandmother's children were William Palmater's children, although his name appears on all of their birth certificates.

When you look at pictures, all the kids have similarities, but they are also similar to men who were my grandmother's drinking buddies. I always thought my uncle John looked like one of those drinking buddies. That man was also a bit of a father figure to my dad and they remained close friends until the man's death.

My siblings and I look a lot like the children of Eel River Bar Elder Margaret LaBillois. She was known to me my whole life as Aunt Margaret. Her husband and my dad were first cousins, and we were taught to call all relatives older than us Uncle or Aunt. It wasn't until shortly before my father's death that we figured out why we share so many features with the LaBillois'. According to Aunt Margaret, she and Daddy were half siblings. Apparently, my grandmother had an affair with her father, Jim Pictou, and my dad was the result. Jim Pictou was originally from Pictou Landing, Nova Scotia, which also explains why there are folks in that community who look a lot like my cousins and me.

Daddy didn't talk about who his father was or about his childhood. It was, by all accounts, very painful. My mother knew some of his secrets, which she insisted she would never share with me. He often said he wished they could develop a pill that would allow him to forget his childhood. This was usually said with tears in his eyes, and then he would shut down.

Daddy didn't talk about who his father was or about his childhood. It was, by all accounts, very painful. My mother knew some of his secrets, which she insisted she would never share with me.

One story, however, that he told often was about the day the bank locked his family out of their house. He would get a faraway look in his eye, and then he would recount the story as though he was watching a film of it in his mind. Before I share the story with you, here is a little backstory so you understand the context.

When my uncle John was born, William Palmater left. Daddy felt this was because he realized Uncle John was not his child. No one knows for sure why this man, whom I refuse to call my grandfather, chose to abandon his wife and children, but that is exactly what he did. He went back to the United States without a word and apparently started a second family in Ohio. They only heard from him one more time, when Daddy and his brothers were overseas fighting in World War II.

He contacted my grandmother and said he wanted to come see them when they returned to Canada. Upon hearing this, my father stayed in Europe for an extra year after the war in order to avoid the meeting — something he regretted for the rest of his life. Eventually, William Palmater died in Ohio. He had never been able to control his drinking, and I understand that he died alone and drunk in the street and lay in the morgue for days before his Ohio family claimed his body. Left alone with five young children, my grandmother couldn't pay for the house in Dalhousie. The Indian Act prevented her from returning to the reservation.

Left alone with five young children, my grandmother couldn't pay for the house in Dalhousie. The Indian Act prevented her from returning to the reservation.

This is the story that Daddy recalled with complete clarity: He said it was four o'clock in the afternoon on a cold winter Tuesday when a man from the bank came and evicted them from their house.

As Granny and her five children stood desperate on the street, the man from the bank put a lock on the door.

Granny did not weep nor did she beg. She looked at the banker and sternly proclaimed, "You will die with a crooked face." Call it coincidence or call it the curse of a woman done wrong, but that banker had a severe stroke from which he never fully recovered. His face was disfigured by the stroke.

He lived the rest of his life, until his death, with a crooked face.


Excerpt from Running Down a Dream: A Memoir by Candy Palmater ©2022. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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