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Hayley and Cory Bainbridge planned a pandemic wedding last June without any guests and came up with a ceremony that incorporated dirt biking, an activity they both love.FUSION PHOTOGRAPHY/Handout

Many engaged couples had to hit pause on their wedding plans over the past two years, or even cancel them, as they negotiated lockdowns, closed borders and ever-shifting public-health measures.

Those difficult realities saw pop-up weddings emerge as a popular option for couples who wanted to tie the knot in the face of COVID-19. These significantly smaller events originated with the idea of multiple couples getting married at the same spot on a single day, with all the planning taken care of.

And even as Alberta and other governments across Canada lift public-health mandates, event planners say pop-up weddings will continue to make up a significant part of the wedding landscape.

“Weddings came to a screeching halt at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Kristy Kivia, lead planner for Black Licorice Weddings in Calgary. “We all thought, it’ll be six weeks, months, then it was a year. Now, couples are realizing that no one knows how long we may have to wait so let’s just get it done.”

The pandemic upended couples’ wedding plans and caused financial pain across the wedding industry. Events were cancelled, in some cases with little notice, in response to pandemic restrictions or because of people being extra cautious in a time of uncertainty. Many vendors and venues lost revenue, and some were forced to shut down entirely.

Many businesses suffered, but some attempted to adapt and fill the gap by shifting to pop-up weddings – smaller, pre-arranged events, often at a temporary venue, complete with all the trimmings such as flowers, decorations and photography.

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While pop-up weddings are not new, they haven’t been at the forefront of Alberta’s wedding scene. But people in the industry say COVID-19 prompted couples to look for simpler, downsized alternatives to the traditional wedding with an expansive guest list.

In some cases of pop-up weddings, multiple couples get married in a single day, with each given a time slot for a short intimate ceremony with a few guests. But the pop-up genre has also come to mean more intimate affairs with just a few guests or none at all. Instead, they’re often filmed and live-streamed for those who can’t attend. The concept now includes any small wedding that “breaks from tradition,” Ms. Kivia said.

“A lot of couples did quick elopements in 2020 and a bigger celebration gathering in 2021,” she said. “It comes down to creativity and adaptability. It’s about finding loopholes that work, like using restaurants as a venue or a neighbour’s yard to ensure distancing.”

Pop-up weddings also require far less planning and allow couples to bring down the costs of what has typically been a pricey event.

“Pop-ups allow couples to cost share and are more sustainable as the same décor and set-up can be used across several couples,” said Corina Waldie, who founded Intimate Wed as a direct response to COVID-19. Ms. Waldie has been planning weddings since 2015 and brought Sydney Spidell in as her business partner in 2021 to launch pop-ups.

And now, a combination of a long two-year wait and announcements that provinces are preparing to lift restrictions, or news that they already have, has created a pent-up demand.

Ms. Spidell said she believes the growing popularity of pop-ups will endure after COVID-19. She said the pop-up format appeals to many couples because it allows for more intimacy and flexibility, less planning, lower costs and smaller carbon footprints.

“The market is more conscientious now, and couples are looking for vendors that reflect this,” said Ms. Spidell, experience and sponsorship co-ordinator with Intimate Wed.

“Pop-up weddings work well under COVID restrictions, but that means they also work under nearly all parameters. So they will continue well beyond the pandemic.”

Most pop-up wedding planners offer set packages that include set up and take down, venue rental, officiant, photography, flowers, décor and cake. The relative ease and lower costs are particularly enticing for couples who already went through the turmoil of making and breaking wedding plans.

That said, some go far beyond a slimmed-down, frugal ceremony. Intimate Wed’s first pop-up wedding offering, for example, will take place at the Banff Gondola in April, where six couples can get married overlooking the Bow Valley. The company’s packages go beyond a typical pop-up by including accommodations, professional wedding dressing, makeup and hair services, plus an optional reception meal.

“It’s ideal for couples who want to be hands-off, but still want a unique memorable experience that really goes beyond the default standard package,” Ms. Waldie says.

The Bainbridges got married at McLean Creek, just west of Calgary. They and their officiant rode dirt bikes to an open field in the woods amid a mountain backdrop and held their ceremony.FUSION PHOTOGRAPHY/Handout

On the other hand, for couples who want to skip the package deal altogether, pop-up weddings let them get creative. Take the wedding of Hayley and Cory Bainbridge, who planned a pandemic wedding last June without any guests and came up with a ceremony that incorporated dirt biking, an activity they both love.

“COVID in a way was a blessing in disguise for us,” Ms. Bainbridge said. “My family is from England and Cory’s is from B.C. It was so stressful trying to figure out how to get everyone together, and we knew it would cost so much money for us and for them. With COVID, it turned out they couldn’t come anyways.”

With the help of Ms. Kivia, of Black Licorice Weddings, the couple got married at McLean Creek, a popular recreation area just west of Calgary. They and their officiant rode dirt bikes to an open field in the woods amid a mountain backdrop and held their ceremony.

In addition to reducing the pressure of getting married in front of a large crowd, the couple says it had the benefit of not sending them into debt. “It wouldn’t have worked with a lot of guests,” Mr. Bainbridge said. “We got to do our wedding just the way we wanted.”

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