Theme park developer creating retirement villages

Theme park developer takes on new challenge: creating luxury retirement villages

The St. Elizabeth village at Hamilton Mountain in Ontario, Canada, is undergoing a re-development by Forrec, the company that famously built Legoland Deutschland, Universal Studios Florida and Canada’s Wonderland among other project.

The bill for the development? A massive $800 million.

The 114-acre site is set to be turned into a pastoral mill town, including a spinning water wheel and old-time windmill. The population, currently around 900 residents will jump to 3,000.

The idea for the renovation came from president Tony DiFruscio after his company took over the village in 2014. After talking to residents about how they could revamp the 30 plus-year-old village while still maintaining its historic “feel”, he thought of Disney’s Boardwalk, a shopping, dining and nightlife precinct based in the US’s Florida.

Creating a narrative through design

That led him to the theme park developer, which uses a team of designers and creatives who design each of their developments around a central story or ‘theme’.

For St. Elizabeth, the Toronto-based company was inspired by the history of the local area and the fact the area had previously had a number of mills. They created a story about a mill owner settling the land, marrying a local woman and together turning the mill into a success. The mill owner then grants parcels of land to his workers, which in turn, become the thriving town.

The designs for the redeveloped village show new buildings and renovated townhouses sitting around a central town square with restaurants and shops that will be open to both the public as well as residents. Some part of the community, such as an indoor pool and housing, will remain strictly private.

“We don’t like to call it a ‘retirement community,’” Forrec CEO Gordon Dorrett said. “As soon as you say that, you think it’s a bunch of old people sitting on couches watching TV. And that’s the exact opposite of what we’re working on.”

Luxury-style living

Instead, the development is named as a ‘resort’ on their site, where it sits along five-star resorts in Mexico, Singapore and Thailand and their one other village project which was built in Florida.

First established in 1995, ‘The Villages’ has since expanded  into three themed communities that covers over 82,000 square kilometres and has over 55,000 homes and more than 120,000 residents.

The community is so large residents usually use golf carts to transport themselves around the village.

Though the St. Elizabeth village expansion is expected to take about ten years to complete, work has already begun on some of its 558 existing townhouses with plans to open the entertainment precinct by the end of 2017.

With the number of retirees on the rise in Canada and the expectation they will be responsible for 80 per cent of new housing by 2030, Forrec’s executive vice-president Steve Rhys says they hope to set the model for other future retirement developments both in Canada and worldwide.

“The boomer population doesn’t think they are getting older,” he says. “They are looking for places that have a buzz of activities, and it’s amazing for them to see that can be made into reality.”

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A special thanks to our contributors

Caroline Egan

DCM Media, agedcare101

Caroline has a wealth of experience writing within the retirement and aged care sector and is a contributing journalist for the and agedcare101 blog and accompanying newsletters.

Ian Horswill


Ian is a journalist, writer and sub-editor for the aged care sector, working at The DCM Group. He writes for The Weekly Source, agedcare101, and the DCM Institute fortnightly newsletter Friday. Ian is in daily contact with CEOs of retirement living, land lease and the aged care operations and makes a new contact every week. He investigates media releases, LinkedIn and Facebook for a good source for ideas for stories.

Lauren Broomham

Retirement and Aged Care Journalist

Lauren is a journalist for, agedcare101 and The Donaldson Sisters. Growing up in a big family in small town communities, she has always had a love for the written word, joining her local library at the age of six months. With over eight years' experience in writing and editing, she is a keen follower of news and current affairs with a nose for a good story.

Jill Donaldson


Jill has been practicing as a clinical physiotherapist for 30 years. For the last 13 years she has worked solely in the Aged Care sector in more than 50 metropolitan and regional facilities. Jill has also toured care facilities in the US and Africa and is a passionate advocate for both the residents in aged care and the staff who care for them. She researches and writes for DCM Media.

Chris Baynes

DCM Media, agedcare101

Chris has been a journalist and publisher in the retirement village and aged care sectors for 11 years. He has visited over 250 retirement villages and 50 aged care facilities both within Australia and internationally. Chris is a regular speaker at industry conferences plus is a frequent radio commentator.

Annie Donaldson

Nurse and Carer

Annie has a long career in both nursing and the media. She has planned and co-ordinated the medical support from both international TV productions and major stadium events. In recent years she has been a primary family carer plus involved in structured carer support.