Independent Living by the Sea

Originally published by Grania Litwin at the Times Colonist.

Independent Living by the Sea.

March 5, 2016. 

It looks like a luxurious hotel or a glamorous resort, with an exotic inner Japanese courtyard, lush landscaping and dazzling views of the south end of Discovery Passage.

But Berwick by the Sea is not a hotel. It’s an award-winning retirement community in Campbell River that was built by Victoria-based Denford Construction and is the only independent and assisted-living retirement community in that city.

“It’s beautiful and it feels like home,” said Jocelyn Cappellani, 84, who moved in a year ago after having had enough of home ownership.

“My husband passed away at age 46 and I raised three children on my own. I worked in an office in Ontario, but my boys are here, working in mining, and my daughter works in Comox, so I decided to come here.”

Cappellani says she has a large bedroom, big living room, kitchen, bathroom, storage, and a place for her computer. Her apartment is cleaned once a week, and she enjoys a menu that includes lots of seafood: oysters, salmon, sole, shrimp and prawns.

“I couldn’t ask for better and hope I can live here until I die,” said Cappellani, who has been on nine cruises and said living at Berwick is like being on one. “I’m not on the ocean side, as it’s more money, but I have sun all day and can go up to the sixth floor deck or lounge any time to enjoy the view.

“This beats every other place I’ve seen. It’s top of the line.”

Others agree, as Berwick by the Sea was not only named the 2015 CARE Awards’ multi-family project of the year, but won gold for landscaping and outdoor living spaces. It also won the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board award for best multi-family project.

Berwick Retirement Community president Chris Denford, a second-generation builder carrying on the tradition established by his father, Gordon, is passionate about design and creating living environments where people want to be.

“This is the complete opposite of building a warehouse for people,” he said. “In my own home, I tried to create a bit of a surprise in every room and I feel strongly it should be the same in a retirement community.

“Obviously, we encourage people to get out, remain independent and engaged in the community. But when you spend a fair amount of time in a building, it should be a spectacular, wonderful and comfortable.”

Achieving a balance between looking like a hotel and operating like a home means spending a lot of time on planning.

“But that keeps it fun and exciting for us, too.”

In addition to Campbell River, the company has two retirement residences in Victoria and ones in Nanaimo, Comox and Kamloops, and is planning one for Qualicum, its seventh.

Chris is especially proud of the Campbell River project, with its two-storey main-floor lounge overlooking a Japanese courtyard, and massive fireplace with end-cuts of giant beams arranged in a grid pattern above.

“It’s simple, yet kind of historic, rustic and contemporary. When young people walk in here, they love it and say they’d like to live here.”

Designer Tracy Higgins drew upon Campbell River’s history of fishing, logging and mining to create the interiors.

In the top-floor Tyee lounge, which has expansive water views and a vaulted ceiling, she hung a boat from the beams. It’s an original rowboat used to catch fish in the famous Tyee pool, where traditionalists row their craft and catch monster salmon on sportingly light test line.

“I grew up here and tried to incorporate images that remind us all of where we live,” said the designer, who blew up archival photos and set them in Douglas fir panels. They include dramatic shots of forest and sea life taken by wildlife photographer Eiko Jones.

Higgins created a “live edge” counter in the residence’s bistro and a huge carved-stone Dungeness crab water fountain. In the library, named for local writer and conservationist Roderick Haig-Brown, she hung a picture of the famous local and his family over the fireplace.

“The residence has a wonderful feeling … there are so many intangibles,” said community relations manager Wendy Mayers.

“It’s a lovely community with very engaged residents and we often hear how friendly it is, how easy to assimilate.”

About half the residents have lived in the area for years, while others come from various Gulf Islands, up Island, Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary and as far away as Ontario.

“It’s a bit of a jaw-dropper when people walk in, because this is so much more than people’s typical perception of a seniors’ community.”

John Rozema, 82, agrees — he came to live here from his retirement home in Vanderhoof, at the insistence of his son, but has no regrets.

“I have a corner studio with full view of the ocean and the town and I can see the whales go by,” said the former contractor, who built schools, and even a seniors’ facility, near Vanderhoof.

“I was married for 57 years and lost my wife overnight. She had a stroke in Palm Springs and by the time we flew home, she was beyond repair. I’d never cooked in my life. I didn’t have the skills to look after myself and no desire to learn,” he said with a chuckle.

“I moved into a facility in Prince George at first, but it was American-owned and they cut corners. This place feels like a luxury hotel and it’s a better deal than Prince George, and it’s not 40 below.

“I’ve met the owners and they’re first class. I sat down with Gordon Denford one day for a couple of hours. He is a fantastic guy, really knows his stuff and you’d never guess his age. Met the son, too, but Chris didn’t have time to shoot the breeze like Gordon.

“This place is locally owned and the people here have pride in what they do.”

He said a big part of the appeal is the socializing: watching films, doing fitness or enjoying a drink in the fireside lounge.

“There is all kinds of stuff going on and people from all over … and lots of women.”

Gordon Denford said today’s seniors, and those coming down the pike, expect more. “As we advance in age, we want to continue enjoying the same things we always did, like going to the pub or eating sushi, which we now have on the menu.”

Gordon, 88, has been involved in commercial and residential construction in B.C. and Alberta for more than half a century and is still working — “Age has never been a factor for me.” He combines that knowledge with insights into the needs of seniors.

“We are ahead of the curve in the industry. When Chris and I attend national meetings for owners and CEOs of seniors’ residences, people zero in on us pretty quick to ask what we’re doing, because we keep raising the bar.”

Architect Jackson Low at Low Hammond Rowe has designed every seniors’ residence for Berwick since the company began building them in 1989 and appreciates the team’s innovative spirit.

“This project is right on the waterfront and we wanted to create something that would be appealing from both the city and waterside, with landscaping the city would be proud of.

While the building is large, the design “broke it down” so the scale would not be overwhelming, he said, with a pavilion entry, an inner courtyard and many intimate spaces.

“In a sense, the building is like a big ship, with a conservatory on top, huge views over the straits and a flying roof form that can be seen from miles away, like a beacon.”

He said the Berwick Group has a passion for seniors: “You can tell by how much they expend on design. It is amazing to work for them.”

SIDEBAR

o The six-floor building has 132 suites varying in size and price, ranging from studios starting at $2,425 a month and one-bedrooms at $2,745, to two-bedrooms and two-bathroom units starting at $3,530.

o Fees include lunch, dinner, all snacks, coffee and teas, recreation programs, utilities, housekeeping and emergency response.

o There is a laundry service, or a self-help laundry room on each floor.

o Excursions to shopping, doctors’ appointments, the theatre, scenic drives, museums, lunches or sites where people can walk are also included.

o The building has a 34-seat movie theatre, fitness room with recreation staff to guide workouts, a library, full-service dining room and self-serve bistro, and the Tyee viewing lounge on the top floor.

SIDEBAR (if wanted)

o B.C. is greying faster than any other province in Canada. According to the last census in 2011, seven of the 10 Canadian municipalities with the highest proportion of seniors were in B.C.

o Seniors account for one out of every two people in Qualicum, and for 37 per cent of the population in Sidney and Parksville.

o B.C. has 16 per cent more seniors than the national average.

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