January 15, 2021 - Father and son, Gordon (Left) and Chris Denford, owners of Berwick Retirement Communities, outside their Victoria offices.  Don Denton photo

Denford Family Matters

Father-and-son team create Berwick resort-style retirement residences

  • Feb. 24, 2021 7:30 a.m.

– 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.”

When Gordon refused to return to England in 1945 because he was going into his third year of university, he lost financial support from the British government and was on his own. The transformative power of education, which Gordon learned at an early age, is the reason the Denfords are so involved in philanthropy, offering numerous bursaries and having a long involvement with several schools, including Pearson College, the University of Winnipeg and Glenlyon Norfolk School, where they’re currently helping to build new facilities.

“We believe in giving back. Our success gives us the ability to give back and we’ve always believed that as a company, and also personally,” says Chris. “We’re heavily invested in education and we believe education is such a vital part of our community’s future, that’s why we support it.”

For Gordon, who’s been making big decisions since he was 17 years old, relying on his wits and logic, the secret to his success is simple.

“It’s all about taking risks and managing those risks. Some things are pretty daunting when you look at them, so you just have to figure out a way to do it.”

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

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