– Story by Tess van Straaten Photography by Don Denton
At the age of 93, successful Victoria entrepreneur and philanthropist Gordon Denford is showing no signs of slowing down.
Asked how long he plans to keep working, the founder of Berwick Retirement Communities laughs and says, “What else is there to do?”
He adds: “I guess if you enjoy what you do, why would you stop?”
Gordon’s been building apartments for almost 60 years, developing Victoria’s first condominium, Cedar Village, in the late ‘60s. He opened the first Berwick residence, Berwick House, in Gordon Head, 31 years ago. Since then, Berwick Retirement Communities, which he runs with his son, Chris Denford, has grown to include resort-style residences where people can enjoy retirement in Nanaimo, Comox, Campbell River, Kamloops and Qualicum Beach. Construction is currently underway on the latest property in Parksville, which will have pickleball courts, lawn bowling, bocce and even a Zen meditation garden.
“[Parksville] is largely based on our Berwick Royal Oak Residence in Victoria, which has a large production theatre for residents as well as for people from the community. And the fitness centre we’re designing is even further expanded, so the outside community can come in and enjoy the facilities,” 56-year-old Chris explains. “It’s all designed to not only provide the residents with an amazing, awesome experience, but also to give the people in the general community a chance to come in and interact with our residents.”
Building connection and community is at the centre of what the Denfords do—from the unique design of each building, which is created to reflect the distinct community it’s in, to a strong focus on amenities and a “we’re a big family” management style, which includes regularly having meals with residents (outside of the COVID-19 pandemic).
“The problem with early seniors’ places that were built up to the 1980s is they didn’t take into consideration interaction between residents, and the idea of providing recreation and activities was unheard of,” says Gordon, who saw first-hand the design failings when his mother was moved into a publicly-funded facility. “People were sitting in wheelchairs in the reception area, including my mother, and that was their idea of getting them out of their rooms,” he says. “I had her moved out of there 24 hours later.”