Remembering Burlington's Janet Carscadden: 'She Just Walked the Walk' | Life Stories | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Remembering Burlington's Janet Carscadden: 'She Just Walked the Walk'


Published December 27, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.

Janet (left) at a community dinner - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Janet (left) at a community dinner

This "Life Stories" profile is part of a collection of articles remembering Vermonters who died in 2023.

Janet Carscadden knew how to throw a party. For years during the annual South End Art Hop in Burlington, she hosted a Friday night shindig at Evolution Physical Therapy & Yoga, on Kilburn Street, bringing in music and a big spread of food that drew crowds. In the Old North End, she oversaw the popular community dinners for the Wards 2 and 3 Neighborhood Planning Assemblies, marshaling teams of inexperienced volunteers to serve close to 150 people on some occasions.

Her motivation for organizing the elaborate, multicourse monthly meals "wasn't because she needed to hold court," said Patrick Johnson, Janet's partner for about 14 years. "It was because people appreciated it. She wasn't boastful or prideful about it."

A native Canadian with characteristic composure, Janet founded Evolution to pair the mindful practice of yoga and meditation with physical therapy, her lifelong career. Friends and family say her kitchen proficiency could just as easily have led her to success as a professional chef.

When she wasn't helming her business, Janet cooked for anyone who showed up at the Burlington home where she lived with Patrick. Those two vocations dominated her life until she died in March at age 51 from, as her friends and family put it in her obituary, "a stupid fucking brain tumor."

Janet at Evolution Physical Therapy & Yoga - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Janet at Evolution Physical Therapy & Yoga

Operating a private practice was personally satisfying to Janet but not particularly lucrative, Patrick said. Physical therapy was Evolution's primary source of income, because medical insurance generally covered clients' costs. That revenue stream subsidized the yoga classes, workshops, instructor trainings and other activities.

"Janet didn't care about the money," said Michelle Downing, a former Evolution physical therapist who met Janet soon after the practice opened and worked there for more than seven years. "She just cared about keeping the doors open so we could keep doing the work."

Janet's "holistic-minded approach" to treating both body and mind, blending Western and Eastern modes of medicine, set the tone for Evolution's operation, Downing said.

According to Patrick, Janet paid herself the same or less than her fellow physical therapists. She encouraged continuing education among staffers and gave employees control over their schedules, insisting that none work a full 40-hour week.

At its peak, Evolution employed about 50 people. Janet threw staff parties and often brought in pastries — Miss Weinerz vegan doughnuts were a favorite.

Evolution became a community gathering space as much as a health care provider. Clients took off their boots at the front door. Comfy couches and a fully stocked tea bar in the lobby encouraged them to stay and sip.

For the annual Old North End Ramble, a neighborhood celebration in July, Janet kicked off the day's events with a yoga class in Battery Park. She'd instruct attendees to grab a partner for supportive poses and, at the end of the session, would bring everyone into a circle to clasp arms, like a group hug.

Janet doing yoga by Lake Champlain - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Janet doing yoga by Lake Champlain

She also launched Yoga on the Dock, summer outdoor yoga sessions on a long pier behind the Community Sailing Center in Burlington, facing Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks.

The opening of Evolution in 2006 marked an evolution of sorts for Janet herself. A voracious meat eater, she turned vegan after attending a monthlong yoga teacher workshop in Bali. Not wanting to contribute to carbon emissions, she rode her bike or skied to work all year.

"With her life and with her business, she just walked the walk," Downing said. "She had principles, and then she enacted them."

Even under the stress of keeping the business afloat, Janet never lost her cool. She refused to fight with Patrick during any disagreement, he said. She chalked it up to the differences between her home country and his: "America fought for its independence, and Canada just waited," he recalled her saying.

Over the years, Janet embraced social activism, particularly in response to income inequality and other societal injustices. She got involved in community organizations and rolled up her sleeves. She worked on political campaigns for Progressive city council candidates Emma Mulvaney-Stanak and Perri Freeman.

She never would just sit on the sidelines and complain, friends and family said.

"She was always kind of spunky. She was a doer," said Judy Carscadden, Janet's older sister. "She had a very clear sense of right and wrong, right from an early age. She would stick up for what she believed ... She always just felt like if there's something that isn't right, then she'd just figure out a way to fix it and do it."

Janet was born and raised in Toronto, the second of three daughters whose parents encouraged self-reliance and independent thinking in their children, said the youngest, Jean-Ann Carscadden. All the girls played sports, and Janet was on field hockey and volleyball teams.

In a large motor home, the Carscaddens traveled with their daughters to most of the United States and much of Canada. More recently, the family spent summers together at a cottage north of Toronto.

"She would come to Canada with these jars of kombucha and pickled things," Jean-Ann said.

Janet graduated from the University of Western Ontario with a degree in physical therapy — the same field as her mother. With few jobs available in Canada, she was recruited to work for a practice in Panama City, Fla., then moved for a job in Mystic, Conn.

That's where she first met Patrick, who grew up in Mystic, when he was back home visiting mutual friends. In 2002, they reconnected again after Janet had moved to Vermont with her then-boyfriend. She took physical therapy jobs at Copley Hospital in Morrisville and then at University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.

There, she eventually rose to a managerial position but grew frustrated by the "lack of forward-thinking," according to Patrick, when she began to suggest incorporating yoga and other methods to support physical therapy. The hierarchy of a traditional health care institution stymied her, he said.

So she left to start Evolution with partner Susan Cline Lucey, a specialist in pregnancy and postpartum yoga and a trained doula and childbirth educator.

Janet "dumped all of her savings, every bit, cashed her 401k," Patrick said. "When she decided to do something, she did not shirk."

After Janet broke up with her boyfriend, she and Patrick dated briefly, but it was a while before the relationship took hold. He eventually won her over.

In 2009, Janet moved into Patrick's Green Street house, where he lived with a longtime roommate, Mark Richards, a man with Down syndrome. Not only was Janet unbothered about sharing her space, Patrick said, but she and Mark grew close, going on outings to food trucks and events around Burlington.

Earlier this year, Mark moved back in with his family in Bellows Falls. On a recent phone call, he described Janet as a "good party person" and a "fun person to hang out with."

They watched "The Great British Baking Show" together, and he convinced Janet to make some of the elaborate desserts, including Baked Alaska.

In her cramped kitchen, Janet flung spices and stirred up sauces, rarely using cookbooks or recipes. For one dinner party, she shipped in fish from the West Coast for guests to make sushi rolls, recalled Alissa Monte, a longtime friend who worked at Evolution as business manager.

"Just an incredible hostess," she said of Janet, adding that her "generous spirit" was evident in her approach to her business and staff.

Many in the Old North End might say the same. For the Ward 2 and 3 community dinners, Janet insisted on preparing ambitious all-vegan menus, Johnson said.

"Her ability to organize 10, 15 volunteers and very complicated meals, from Ethiopian to hand-making pasta, dumplings" was remarkable, said Patrick, who tried to steer her to simpler meals. "She would not listen to me, and it would always be phenomenal."

Janet never stood still. In 2014, she went back to school to earn her doctorate in physical therapy at Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions in Boston.

After much prodding by Patrick, she agreed to become a U.S. citizen in 2015. "I wanted her to vote," he said.

In September 2021, while riding her bike home from Art Hop, Janet felt that something was wrong and pulled over. A friend saw her and brought her home. An immediate trip to the UVM Medical Center emergency department revealed that she had glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive type of brain tumor.

She was "pissed off" about the diagnosis, Monte said. But in classic Janet fashion, she refused to give in. She and Patrick traveled to Boston every three weeks for an experimental treatment.

Soon after the initial surgery on her tumor, she went to Yoga on the Dock, modifying her poses to address her faltering balance. "She loved sitting by the lake," her sister Judy said. "When she was sick, we would often walk down and sit on the bench looking at the lake."

During her yoga training in Bali, Janet had kept a journal. In it, she wrote, "We don't heal in isolation but in community," Judy recalled.

Janet never returned to Evolution following her diagnosis. After failing to find a buyer for the practice, Patrick and the staff shut it down in January 2022.

The always chatty Janet lost her ability to speak but continued to communicate through some favorite songs, Patrick said, including "So Lonely" by the Police and Ani DiFranco's "Untouchable Face," also known as the "Fuck You" song.

She never lost her appetite. In her final days, Janet enjoyed chocolate ice cream with Downing and a food run to City Market with Monte.

What she really wanted was more time.

As Patrick put it, "I think she was just getting going in a lot of aspects of life."

The original print version of this article was headlined "'With Her Life and With Her Business, She Just Walked the Walk' | Janet Carscadden, January 24, 1972-March 22, 2023"

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