Bekki Hammill spent a year and a half meticulously planning her dream wedding.
The theme was spring skiing. Her father rented a yellow school bus so their guests could hit the slopes together at Sunshine Village in Banff. Next, the wedding, at a golf course resort in Canmore, Alta. Later, the honeymoon suite at the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel, followed by a 10-day getaway to Switzerland, including a spa boutique hotel stay in Zermatt for Ms. Hammill and fiancé Ian Hastings.
The hitch? The destination wedding was scheduled for March 28 and the European honeymoon for April 1 – this as the world stalled amid the rapidly intensifying COVID-19 pandemic.
“Friday [March 13] is really when it all came to a head,” said Ms. Hammill a 31-year-old nurse practitioner who worked at a clinic that day, seeing patients with upper-respiratory symptoms and heightened anxiety around COVID-19.
After several sleepless nights, the couple cancelled their wedding. Unwilling to risk anyone’s health, they called each of their 60 guests, who were relieved.
With a dream wedding “snatched away,” the New Tecumseth, Ont., couple is unclear on a Plan B. Their wedding planner raced to contact every vendor, securing credits and a refund on the venue. Mr. Hastings has dubbed this “a pause button," and the two have started wearing their wedding bands, regardless.
“I’ve done a lot of ugly crying,” Ms. Hammill said. “There’s a lot of question marks right now.”
As the global health crisis mounts, the brides of 2020 are staring down tough but necessary decisions. Couples who were to wed this spring have been forced to drastically scale back or postpone their weddings to keep guests, especially the elderly, safe. With borders closing, airlines suspending operations and travellers quarantined, guests from abroad can no longer attend, either. Expensive and painstakingly planned festivities have been thrown up in the air, with no one certain when to reschedule, given the pandemic’s hold and some provinces shuttering restaurants and bars and banning gatherings of more than 50 people.
Also left in the lurch are planners, florists, caterers, photographers and other wedding specialists, now scrambling to re-book and come up with alternative services to stay afloat as business dries up.
Paige Cunningham’s wedding was scheduled for March 21st at the Drake Commissary, a Toronto restaurant, with 160 guests to attend. As news of the crisis heated up on Friday the 13th, Ms. Cunningham, 30, chose to postpone.
“After the World Health Organization deemed it a pandemic, that’s when we said, ‘Uh oh. We need to make a decision,’” said Ms. Cunningham, a Toronto manager of community partnerships and events.
As her wedding and a two-week Hawaii honeymoon unraveled, Ms. Cunningham experienced “a roller coaster of emotions,” crying for two days. "Everything lifted” when she and her fiancé decided to postpone for the sake of guests’ health. Now, the couple is focused on re-booking with vendors for September. “All of them have been so gracious and obviously know that this out of our control,” Ms. Cunningham said.
The two will honour their original wedding day by reading their vows either by Lake Ontario or in a wooded city ravine. “I couldn’t imagine just sitting here in our condo on March 21,” Ms. Cunningham said.
Dana Marley’s nuptials were all set for May 26 – in Italy. The venue, a rose-festooned villa in the hills overlooking Florence, was to host 60 guests among its courtyards, terraces and fountains.
As the pandemic paralyzed Italy, Ms. Marley, a Toronto HR program specialist, and her fiancé postponed their wedding and her April bridal shower, putting “health before wedding bells.” The two are helping guests secure credits or refunds for their flights and accommodations. Villa staff will hold the couple’s deposit for a second go at it.
Toronto wedding planner Karina Lemke and others in her industry are using group chats to collaborate amid income loss. “Being quarantined for several weeks during wedding season is a real threat,” said Ms. Lemke, who is also concerned about exposure at weddings that move ahead.
As florists, floral growers and wholesalers lose orders and shut down amid large-scale cancellations, some are donating their perishable blooms to hospices and seniors’ residences, thanks to Kalynn Crump, founder of the floral recycling initiative ReBLOOM and her staff, who’ve delivered thousands of stems in sanitized plastic bins through “no contact drop-offs” across Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria and Toronto.
Dev Pandya, a sales manager at southern Ontario’s Impact DJ, has been working 18-hour days rescheduling with his wedding clients – 22 so far for March and April. Adapting to the new realities of self-isolation, the company recently launched online “wedcasting" for those opting for virtual weddings. “We can broadcast ceremonies, speeches, first dances and their entire reception to a live URL,” Mr. Pandya said.
Self-isolation also means some partners are making tough decisions apart, including Katherine Gross and her fiancé, Daniele Bruzzese. The two live apart, with their parents, and decided to self-isolate to protect their health. They had to hammer out their wedding postponement via text and FaceTime.
Everything is now pushed back: A March 29 bridal shower, the May 30 wedding and a three-week honeymoon through Italy. Because of rescheduling snags, the couple will likely have their church ceremony and reception on different days. The reception is booked for Oct. 23, though even that feels dicey to Ms. Gross, a 31-year-old Vaughan, Ont., high-school English teacher: “It’s math based on hope."
For now, her family is maintaining levity, eating through mountains of chocolate her mother bought for the shower.
“This whole time we’ve been telling my dad and my brother, ‘do not eat the chocolate,'" Ms. Gross said. “Finally they were like, ‘okay, we can eat the chocolate now.'”
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