You never know where life experiences will lead you. When Janet Bickford was a teen, she spent three summers building a cabin with her family on Green Lake in BC’s Cariboo region. At the time, she had no idea that the skills her dad passed on to her – like how to toenail a stud into position – would come in so handy.
Janet’s biggest contribution was the fireplace. “In the process of clearing the rock from the beach we discovered that, if split open with a sledgehammer, they were all different colours inside,” recalls Janet. “I spent hours wearing safety goggles bashing the heck out of rocks until we had enough to face the inside of the hearth. Then the artistic part began. I worked closely with Dad to choose and fit the split rocks until we had a beautiful fireplace with a stone hearth.”
When Janet and her sisters, Dorothy and Diana, weren’t working on the cabin, they swam in the lake or sailed the boat that dad Reginald had built – one of seven he constructed over the years, from an Irish currach to a 28-foot trimaran. Reginald, an architect, was always a builder of things. Along with the cabin and boats, he built a house and two family house trailers in Dublin, and a pioneering solar-heated house in Ocean Park, BC.
Janet never did get to finish work on the cabin; she headed off to Europe and then UBC, where she majored in Theatre and Creative Writing. After graduation, she performed in summer stock and tried her hand at costume cutting, for which she showed a natural talent. But when an apprentice position in props at the Vancouver Playhouse came up, she decided to give that a try.
“I fell in love with working in props,” says Janet. “It was just so different from costumes. You weren’t dealing with picky actors and their codpiece fittings and all that stuff. It was a lot more fun because it used the talents that I’d learned from Dad.”
Janet’s career in props saw her working in theatre, including the Shaw Festival, the National Arts Centre and the Arts Club, as well as films, including Rocky IV and The 13th Warrior. Her final job before retirement was at UBC’s Frederic Wood Theatre, a rewarding way to give back by working with students where she herself had trained. Over the years, Janet and her family remained close. One thing they all share is a love for the programs on Knowledge. Janet’s list of favourites is long, including Heartbeat, pretty much all of the detective series and just about anything on Masters, Eden and Memphis. Dorothy shares the same tastes, while Diana has been hooked on Waking the Dead.
Their parents enjoyed watching Knowledge, too. When Reginald died in 2015, Janet and her sisters decided to donate to the Knowledge Endowment in memory of him and Betty, who passed away in 2011.
“I knew that Mom and Dad loved Knowledge so much,” says Janet. “Foyle’s War was Dad’s all-time favourite. He thought it was very realistic; it gave him the flavour of the war years.”
Janet, who has been a Knowledge Partner since 1989, has also left a bequest for Knowledge in her will. “I wanted to acknowledge the fact that it has meant a lot to me during my life. Knowledge has filled so many of my evenings, and I want to make sure it continues on for others.”