How Candy Palmater's magic touched my life
I haven't published anything on here since May. But if there's anything that could bring me out of a writer's hiatus, it's the opportunity to reflect on the legacy of the Great Candy Palmater.
When I enrolled in post-secondary studies at U of T in 2010, I was thrilled to be living so close to school. But after two years of studying history, I made the switch into the journalism program, which meant half of my studies would take place at a campus that was a 40-minute drive away from home.
Those drives were awful. And I did anything I could to pass the time, including tuning in to CBC. This was quite a common practice for many Canadians considering it's the country's national public broadcaster. But when you're a young twenty-something chick who parties from Thursday to Sunday, this was surely a different way to spend your car ride.
But there I was, driving to and from my classes listening to a variety of news and talk radio programs. One of them was The Candy Show. I had never heard anything like it. I had just begun to dabble in talk radio, which certainly accounts for part of the reason the program was so new to me. But what it really came down to was the content that Candy was putting out there on the airwaves.
The first thing that struck me was her voice. She spoke deeply, slowly, and had the most tantalizing delivery. No matter what she was talking about, she instantly made you want to stay tuned in.
Over the next few years, I would hear her on different radio and television programs, often speaking out about Indigenous issues, bravely taking on the patriarchy and offering some sort of respite in the form of uncontrollable laughter to whatever audience she was addressing.
So never in a million years did I think I'd have the opportunity, just a few years after graduating from that journalism program that required the drive that exposed her to me, to work with the beloved comedian.
In July of 2020, I got hired as a segment producer and lineup editor over at CTV's The Social. As a lineup editor, there was simply no greater joy (and relief) than having Candy Palmater on the panel. Essentially, you were trying to sell a lineup of topics that are often incredibly personal, political, sometimes sexual, to a group of people that have to go on national television and bare their souls, often sharing some of the most personal anecdotes, about these topics.
But if you knew Candy, or had at least seen her on the show, you'd know that there were very few things that were off-limits for her. Members of those morning calls often joked that Candy had "lived a thousand lives" and therefore had so much to share, no matter which direction the daily show was headed in. Sometimes it was heavy, sometimes it was light and fluffy. But no matter what, Candy brought the same thoughtful, measured and informed insights to every single conversation she was part of.
And while she hadn't literally lived a thousand lives, the one that she did live was mighty. We often heard about the love she shared with a man that she'd been with for more than a decade before meeting Denise, who she spoke about so fondly you could feel their love.
We heard the stories about her large family, the love that surrounded her while she grew up, the feeling of being the first Indigenous law student valedictorian at Dalhousie Law School and the love that she shared with people who had come in and out of her life.
We heard about what she was planning to wear, particularly when it came to the accessories. We heard about her hair and makeup. But just as much as we heard and saw the glam, she was sure to show herself, bare, on social media.
During her two-week stay in hospital leading up to her most recent birthday, she kept her followers updated with how she was doing, praising the work of the frontline workers who provided her with care, and ultimately, a diagnosis of a rare condition called EGPA, which stands for Eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis. It's a condition that occurs when certain types of blood or tissue cells inflame.
Healthcare was something that Candy spoke often about on The Social. She talked about how the healthcare system was not designed for Indigenous people, and highlighted so many other ways in which Canada's political, justice and education systems continue to fail First Nations.
From political to personal, there was not a day that Candy spoke and it didn't leave me with a little nugget of wisdom. And luckily for me, the section of my computer from which I took notes during those host calls are littered with what I transcribed as Candy gave us her preliminary thoughts on a range of different topics. And I would be doing the world a disservice if I didn't share those with you. Here are a few of my favourites:
This is something I talk about a lot in my keynotes. I believe that failure is the juice of life. It's where you grow, figure out your value, and see how tough you can be. I was 4 and my brother Billy was gonna teach me how to ski. Billy leaned over and put his big hand in the middle of my chest and pushed me in the snow. He said, "First I'm gonna teach you how to get up. You'll fall, and if you know how to get up, you know how to ski." I lived my life without the fear of falling because I knew how to get up. I fail a lot. I go to high schools and tell them they're gonna fail and die eventually. It makes it less scary.
I nap in a full-sequin gown. I don't sleep well at night so I'm the queen of naps. It's nothing to walk into a dressing room a few minutes before a show and rest up before you go on stage. I can nap in anything!
On supporting your partner during time off work:
When I met Denise, I was with her a month and a half when I quit my job at the law firm with nothing to fall back on. I was completely and utterly destroyed by my time at the firm. I moved in with her in the country. She was working as a vet tech. She supported me for a year on a $27k salary while I read books and cried. This was at a point when we were very new. When I got healed up, I came out swinging. None of that could've happened without her patience. Later, when Denise wanted to be a real estate agent, I said, "Let's do it."
On clothing rules for women over 50:
This is why I think rules suck. Whether you're talking about age or body size, it depends on who you are as a person. Your personality will indicate how you feel about something, so who gives a shit how it looks if it makes you feel good?
There was one other topic that her thoughts really moved me on that I don't have her notes for. But along with so much else she said, it's etched into my brain. The topic was inheritance, and whether it's ever okay to ask your parents what they plan on leaving behind for you. The hosts and producers shared their thoughts, mostly in unison about how uncomfortable of a conversation this would be before someone's death.
But Candy, as if she were talking about the weather, shared with us that her inheritance wasn't a cheque. It was something greater. It was the art of storytelling - and stories to tell. She described growing up in a family of amazing oral historians who inundated her with family stories from a very young age. "I made a career out of that," she said simply. "It's the best inheritance I could've asked for."
That was Candy. Taking the discomfort right out of situations or topics and choosing instead to infuse a bit of knowledge, a bit of wisdom, a bit of humour, and a lot of humanity.
To put it simply - the world lost a legend. We lost a feminist. We lost an educator. We lost an icon. And I am eternally grateful to have had the honour and privilege of getting to experience even a sliver of Candy's magic, because I am all the better because of it.