The coronavirus pandemic has, at least for now, dramatically changed the nature of weddings.
The 150-plus guest list, hugs and kisses between extended family members, buffet dinners and tipsy moves on the dance floor are a thing of the past, with public-health guidelines limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people.
But love is not cancelled. Micro-weddings and elopements are taking place on mountaintops, on private docks and even broadcast on FM radios for guests confined to their cars.
Three couples who got married this summer told the Times Colonist about how, despite the pandemic, they celebrated the intimate and deeply personal wedding of their dreams.
Amy and Nicolas — An elopement atop a mountain
Dressed in a sleek, floor-length wedding dress, Amy Wheat hiked a mountain to marry her fiancé, Nicolas Soucy.
The Whitehorse couple had set their sights on a destination wedding in Victoria in the botanical gardens of the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific on May 23.
With COVID-19 restrictions limiting their guest list, the couple decided to elope on the same day and postpone the larger celebration to 2021.
They wanted a forested, earthy setting, so Amy suggested Lone Tree Hill Regional Park in the Highlands, which is where they took their engagement photos.
The couple flew from Whitehorse and Nicolas’s parents drove and Amy’s parents flew from their hometown of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.
After about a half-hour hike to the top, Amy and Nicolas exchanged their vows at 5 p.m. in front of their parents.
Their wedding planners, from the Good Party, carried backpacks filled with champagne and macarons.
With no table available, the marriage licence was signed on the wedding planner’s back.
Amy said ditching the stress of a big wedding allowed the couple to really focus on each other and celebrate their love.
“It is no longer about your guests, your food, your flowers, your venue or your dress,” she said. “You really get the time to take in the moment the commitment the two of you have decided to make.”
Amy said she feels special knowing that no one else will have the same wedding as she and Nicolas.
“I think people are getting super creative and proving that their love is more important than COVID,” Amy said.
Marley Poniedzielnik of the Good Party said because no one can have a “traditional wedding” right now, it allows couples to think outside the box and personalize their wedding.
“They’re taking stock of what’s important to them, who is important to them,” she said.
Julia and Manuel — A flotilla of friends witness wedding on dock
On a dock overlooking Cole Island, witnessed by a flotilla of friends on kayaks and standup paddleboards in View Royal’s Tovey Bay, Julia Oland and Manuel Rodriquez Bejarano sealed their marriage vows with a kiss.
Knowing that a big wedding attended by family from Bolivia and Nova Scotia would not be possible amid the pandemic, the couple tied the knot on July 25 at the waterfront property of Lisa Banks, Julia’s cousin.
As the sun glinted on the water, Julia, dressed in a lace gown with a flowing train, navigated the two dozen winding steps and a plank to reach Manuel. About 10 people lined the terraces, shaded by arbutus trees, overlooking the dock.
In the water, a couple and their five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son watched from two stand-up paddleboards, while three work colleagues in kayaks, one of whom set up the couple, unfurled the Nova Scotian flag, the Bolivian flag and the Canadian flag after Julia and Manuel’s kiss.
The kayakers and Lisa’s 12-year-old daughter Paige scattered the water with flowers and rose petals. The wedding was also streamed on Zoom to more than 80 people, including Manuel’s parents and relatives in Bolivia, his sister in Denmark, Julia’s relatives in Halifax and friends in Australia.
“We really did feel so loved,” Julia said.
At the 12-person reception, Manuel’s father made a toast in Spanish and English via Zoom.
Manuel said it was so important that their extended family could be part of the day.
“If the video would have failed, it wouldn’t have been the same,” he said.
Banks said she was thrilled to host the couple’s wedding, which was intimate and unique.
“It’s just a great way to celebrate and if you can do that in a safe way, it can bring so much joy to what could be just another pandemic day,” Banks said.
Julia said the pandemic has been stressful for so many people, so the couple was thrilled that their day was filled with laughter and joy.
“With COVID, it’s just been so heavy,” she said. “We wanted it to be something people could look forward to. Something special right now, the beginning of something amazing.”
When restrictions lift, Julia and Manuel plan on having a big party to celebrate their love.
“We want to be able to dance with our families and hug them tightly and have some drinks.”
Julian and Morgan — A fairytale forest ceremony and a drive-through wedding
Morgan Swift-Kolsut is the kind of person who has been dreaming of her wedding since she was a little girl. She and Julian Kolsut were planning a 200-person wedding with guests from Europe, Mexico, Australia, the United States and India. COVID-19 dashed those plans, but they were determined to keep their wedding date of July 11.
“We were like: ‘We’re not moving it.’ The world is falling apart a little bit, but we’re still having our special day,” said Julian, a video journalist from CHEK News. “We didn’t want to give up the commitment to each other — we just have to give up the larger event.”
Their decision in mid-March to downsize the wedding came around the same time that the couple made the difficult decision to live apart for two months.
Morgan is at high risk due to an autoimmune disease, and Julian’s job means he is regularly interacting with the public.
“While our wedding was crumbling around us, we weren’t able to hug or see each other because I was still in the community for work,” Julian. “It felt like the world was falling apart.”
Morgan’s health condition meant she also had to be careful to keep the guest list small and limit her exposure to people outside her immediate family.
Julian had seen drive-by weddings on social media, so he scoped out the Saanich Fairgrounds as a possible location where friends could watch them get married from their cars.
Marley Poniedzielnik from event planning company the Good Party said the planner working with the couple had the idea to broadcast the ceremony into people’s FM radios, as at a drive-in movie. The ceremony was also broadcast on Zoom to family and friends abroad.
“It’s been super-interesting to see how creative we can be and how creative the couple can be,” said Poniedzielnik, who added the pandemic has added some unique logistical challenges to wedding planning.
Morgan remembers that it was pouring rain right before the ceremony but a delay caused by her brother forgetting a copy of the vows ended up being fortuitous: They said their I dos under clear skies.
Friends in about 30 cars honked, popped mini bottles of champagne and waved signs.
Under an arch of hundreds of white balloons, the couple kissed while wearingmasks and holding a sign that says “Love is not cancelled.”
The couple was also presented with a video montage of their relationship that contained well-wishes from many of the guests who couldn’t be there in person.
The drive-through ceremony followed a more intimate spiritual ceremony attended by 12 people in a forest behind Morgan’s parents’ Central Saanich home.
Morgan’s brother, Gabriel, who is also Julian’s best friend, spent about 100 hours bushwhacking to clear a path through the trees, which on the wedding day became an aisle covered in flower petals.
Trees adorned with golden lights and soft music played by a harpist made the ceremony the “fairytale wedding I’ve always wanted,” Morgan said.
“It kind of made us feel like we got our full wedding in a crazy way,” Julian said. “We’ll have a great story to tell our kids.”