Normally at this time of year, wedding season is in full swing, with new outfits flying off the racks, brides finalizing details with the caterers, attendants practicing their toasts and wedding planners in a tizzy over the slew of last-minute details.
This year, things are very different, eerily quiet even, as most couples have postponed their weddings until they get an all-clear from health officials to assemble large numbers of people in a party room or tent.
But there is a growing contingent of soon-to-be-marrieds who are bucking that trend and embracing the chance to downsize, focusing instead on simplicity over pomp, nature over manicured lawns and small budgets over grandiose ones.
The pandemic has shifted perspectives and couples are organizing low-key events that celebrate a sacred moment and the reason they wanted to get married in the first place: because they love each other. Here’s a sample of Canadian newlyweds who demonstrate that cozy and intimate is catching on.
Kelsey Aquiline and Brayden McEwan
Hiking enthusiasts Kelsey Aquiline and Brayden McEwan had always wanted a small wedding and had planned a celebration for 70 people in September at the Fraser River Lodge, near Hope, B.C. “We’re big outdoors people so we liked the idea of a fishing lodge with wild buffalo roaming around,” says 30-year-old Aquiline who lives in Langley, B.C.
However, when British Columbia began to shut down in March due to COVID-19 restrictions, they both jumped at the chance to pare numbers back even more, and with help from Elope BC, which specializes in planning small weddings, they exchanged vows on July 5 at a remote lake north of Kelowna, accessible only by all-terrain vehicles.
“The only thing I had to do was show up with my dress,” Aquiline says. “And bring lots of bug spray. The rest was all a wonderful surprise.”
McEwan, 26, and his family travelled the forest service road that leads to Ideal Lake in one ATV, while Aquiline, her parents and their pug, Duke, who wore a black tie, travelled in another. In total, 13 guests took part in the simple ceremony and accompanying campfire. Mosquitoes were kept at bay by bug spray Aquiline made with essential oils.
“We arrived in late afternoon when the sun was high in the sky. A loon kept calling as we exchanged our vows, and the only decorations were what nature provided. It was a very sustainable wedding,” she says.
The couple says that when the pandemic hit it felt like a good opportunity to go ahead with a small wedding and not feel guilty. “We had the option to wait but, with all the backed-up weddings from COVID-19 this year, I didn’t want to get into a big war with all the other brides,” says Aquiline, who adds they might have a small party in their backyard next spring. “It felt like it all fell together seamlessly and was meant to be.”
Stephanie Baptiste and Roberson Etienne
Intensive care nurse Stephanie Baptiste knew early on that the spread of COVID-19 was likely going to mean the cancellation of her 100-person wedding to Roberson Etienne on May 31 in Joliette, Que. With their families unable to fly in from Haiti and the United States because of border restrictions, they quickly switched gears to find a way to make the original date work.
“We were sad our family couldn’t be there but we didn’t want to postpone the wedding. May 31 is Mother’s Day in Haiti and it has special meaning for us,” says Baptiste, who met Etienne, 32, when they were both international students at the University of Moncton.
Baptiste, a nature lover, plugged “rustic bohemian” into her search engine and found a web page for Montreal-based Le Coeur Boheme, a one-stop shop that caters to “untraditional” couples. The company also owns a rustic venue called La Maison Bohème in Très-Saint-Rédempteur, between Ottawa and Montreal, that ticked all the right boxes – trees, wildlife, a stream, a tiny bridge and a camper called Dotie from which Champagne and a vanilla buttercream wedding cake were served.
They were married in front of a simple altar made of wood and white macramé. The groom wore a baby blue suit. The bride wore a dress that Etienne surprised her with from a tiny shop in Montreal (she had purchased her own but it needed alterations and tailors were closed).
“In total we had our witnesses, a public notary and a friend who surprised us and drove in from Quebec City,” Baptiste says. “It wasn’t our ‘big’ day, but in a sense, it was more special. It was intimate, stress-free and, most importantly, fun. We didn’t have to worry about anything but enjoying ourselves. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”
Amanda MacDonald and Brett MacInnis
Even before COVID-19, Haligonians Amanda MacDonald and Brett MacInnis were struggling with whether to go big or go small. Feeling pressure to be “inclusive” they originally booked a local restaurant, with a rooftop patio, for 100 guests on June 6.
However, when physical distancing went into effect they quickly reverted to Plan B. “We sent out an e-mail to all our wedding guests saying, ‘Never mind, the wedding is off. But please send a video message, a note or an e-mail,’” MacDonald says.
The couple, who are both 33, were married on June 6 in a post-and-beam Airbnb in the tiny village of Canning, in Nova Scotia’s picturesque Annapolis Valley. “I would have gone anywhere but Brett had a wish list. It had to be rustic and be near water,” she says.
Unfortunately, the day of the wedding a thick, soupy fog rolled in obliterating their view of the Minas Basin, an inlet in the Bay of Fundy. Still, it didn’t faze the couple, who said there were wonderful nooks and crannies throughout the house to get photos. “The mist made our wedding seem even more magical in a weird, but distinctly East Coast, kind of way,” MacDonald says.
Total attendance for the ceremony was five: the two of them, the photographers (a married couple) and a justice of the peace they found through East Coast Pop-Up Weddings.
“After the wedding we watched the videos and notes from all our friends and it was like having little mini-speeches from all our wedding guests. Then we treated ourselves to a catered three-course meal. The chef made us Thai-style crab cakes, a warm Caprese salad and a beautiful mushroom risotto with scallops. We couldn’t eat our mini-wedding cake until 11 p.m. that night,” she says. “It might not have been the wedding we originally planned, but Plan B was perfect. We’re husband and wife now and that’s all that matters.”
Melodie Murray and Jordan Ansley
Melodie Murray and Jordan Ansley had sent out invitations to 140 people for their May 22 wedding in the Ball’s Falls Conservation Area, a scenic spot on the Niagara Escarpment that boasts two waterfalls, hiking trails and a historical village from the 1890s.
By early April, they made the difficult decision to cancel that outdoor celebration, with a reception to follow in a big barn and replaced it with an intimate ceremony on a path in the woods behind a friend’s church in Mount Hope, a neighbourhood in Hamilton.
“Because of our faith we don’t live together and we really wanted to start our lives together. We didn’t want to wait,” Murray says. They kept the same date and asked their minister to officiate. Her dad walked her down the path (he was also ring bearer), and the photographer functioned as a bridesmaid, fussing with Murray’s dress and hair.
“Everything turned out so beautiful and we were so happy we went forward,” says Murray, 29, who exchanged vows in front of an altar Ansley made from recycled wood and decorated with a garland of flowers. “There was a clearing near where the ceremony was and our parents parked their cars so they could watch from a safe distance. We live-streamed it so they could watch it on their phones and laptops.”
Ansley says her only regret is that her two siblings, who live in Halifax, couldn’t come. “My sister was my maid of honour, but she put on her dress and I had her on video call getting ready all morning.” Her grandmother, several aunts and close friends also put on their best outfits and sent photographs, which are now in their wedding album.
“We love our family and we would have loved for them to be there,” Murray says. “It was a tough decision but, in the end, we had to prioritize what was important. And that was us.”
Sign up for the weekly Parenting & Relationships newsletter for news and advice to help you be a better parent, partner, friend, family member or colleague.