Living

Five Sweet And Intimate Pandemic Weddings

The pandemic threw a major wrench into the 2020 wedding season. Meet five couples who forged ahead with highly unique nuptials during a highly unusual time.

A no-worries wedding day for two frontline workers

Kwame and Samantha
Toronto
July 25, 2020

Samantha: Our original wedding date was August 2020. By April, everything had started to get so complicated, for obvious reasons, and then our venue shut down. So we just thought, “Okay, let’s try this again next year.” Then I saw on Instagram that the Toronto Wedding Collective [a group of local vendors] was having a contest: a free wedding for a front-line worker. I’m a nurse, so I entered, but almost as a joke. I never thought we would actually win. When we did, it was just like, “Oh my God. Well I guess we’re going to do this.” My side of the family was really skeptical about a wedding that I had won in a contest. This wasn’t the wedding they had envisioned for me.
Kwame: It wasn’t what we had envisioned for ourselves either, but it ended up being exactly the right thing.
Samantha: This has been a crazy year, and really bleak and sad in so many ways. At work, both of us had been dealing with so much tragedy. Before COVID, Kwame was working as a gymnastics coach, but he was redeployed by the city to do physiotherapy and sanitation at a long-term care facility.
Kwame: We cancelled the original wedding because it all felt so overwhelming, especially given our jobs. Now we had someone else handling everything.
Samantha: But we still got to make our own choices. Part of the prize was a dress rental, but I had already bought my dress at a pop-up in January. It was exactly what I wanted, so I stuck with it.
Kwame: I knew I didn’t want to do a tux. I’m Gambian. In my culture, the groom and his family wear white, but I knew that wasn’t going to work either. I’m a 32-year-old man, but let’s be honest, I need a bib. I decided on a modern suit in navy blue, inspired by Gambian tradition. The character on the front translates to “but for God,” which felt very fitting.
Samantha: The venue was a loft space in downtown Toronto. Because of all the restrictions, we didn’t do a typical reception. Instead, we cut the cake with our 50 guests and did a champagne toast. We didn’t have a first dance.
Kwame: But we did have a song. My mom and I performed “Something Good” from The Sound of Music. I grew up on Rodgers and Hammerstein, so that was really special. We kept it a secret.
Samantha: I knew they were planning something, but I didn’t know what.
Kwame: I almost felt selfish for taking that time to have so much joy, but it was also a relief to be able to relax and just celebrate. The pandemic has reminded us to focus on the things that really matter.
Samantha: I felt exactly the same way. We got to have this wonderful day with none of the stress and we didn’t have to spend thousands of dollars. We took the money we were going to spend on our wedding and made a down payment on a house!

A newlywed female couple both with dark hair, both wearing cream suits

(Photo: Alissa Syabillah)

Matching outfits felt just right

Paulina and Sandy
Vancouver
August 7, 2020

Paulina: I lived in Canada for a few years when I was little and I always had the dream of moving back. Sandy and I met in a bar in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2018. We knew pretty quickly that we wanted to be together, and when I told her that I had been planning on moving to Canada, she was up for it.
Sandy: I felt very lucky to meet the love of my life. I think I would have gone anywhere, but I ended up really loving Vancouver, where we moved at the end of 2019.
Paulina: We decided to get married because it makes everything easier in terms of applying to stay in Canada permanently, but I don’t want to make it sound unromantic. We were also very excited to get married for all the usual reasons. We both planned surprise proposals. I brought Sandy to a park in our neighbourhood; we had a picnic and I played a song that we really love on the ukulele—“I’m Yours”—before I asked. And then she brought me to this beautiful gazebo in North Vancouver. We got married under that same gazebo three weeks later.
Sandy: I guess it was pretty romantic. We didn’t have a lot of time. We knew we wanted to do something simple given the circumstances. My family is all in Mexico, so that was tough. But we had some family from Paulina’s side. We had 13 guests in total.
Paulina: My sister made the bouquets and our corsages. We didn’t start out with the idea to wear the same thing. At first, we were thinking about dresses. I spent a lot of time looking at Pinterest and I started to really like the idea of a tuxedo look. If one of us was going to wear the tux, it was going to be me.
Sandy: We ended up going to Zara. Paulina tried on the ivory suit first, then suggested I try it on, too.
Paulina: With weddings, there is this overwhelming sense of what you “should” do. We realized: Why don’t we just do what feels right for us? The ceremony was easy and fun. I don’t think we realized we were going to enjoy the day as much as we did.
Sandy: It was wonderful. After we were officially married, we walked down the block to a restaurant that allowed two tables of six. There were some toasts, and then we ended the day with dessert.
Paulina: Two cakes because we each have our favourite: tiramisu for me and cheesecake for my wife. We may have the same taste in outfits, but not in cake.

A photo of a middle-aged man wearing a T-shirt that says Straight Outta Quarantine and a woman in a black tank top

“I do” at the drive-thru, in pyjamas

Bonnie and Mike
Winnipeg
September 11, 2020

Bonnie: We got engaged in 2018. We didn’t have a plan before COVID. We thought that we might do a destination wedding. Both of us have been married before, so it’s not like we were thinking about that big white wedding sort of thing. I was starting to realize that travel might not be an option for quite a while and then I saw this post on Facebook about a local officiant who was marrying people in her driveway. I texted it to Mike. He immediately responded with a list of locations in Winnipeg where we could get a marriage licence—he already had that information saved on his phone, even though we hadn’t picked a date yet. It was two weeks between that day and our wedding. We didn’t have to do too much to prepare. We ordered rings—mine has a black diamond; Mike’s is made of black carbide with an electric-blue centre. I think our whole idea was to keep things a little bit unconventional.
Mike: We started to talk about what to wear and got the idea of just wearing our pyjamas. But then I saw this T-shirt that said “Straight Outta Quarantine,” and I just knew I had to wear it.
Bonnie: I went with a favourite robe and slippers. I wore blue suede shoes for my “something blue.” And a garter under my PJs. We put a Just Married sign and some bride and groom cut-outs on the car, and that was it. We needed witnesses, so I asked my aunt and uncle to come with me to an appointment and then it was like, “Surprise!”
Mike: The only real hiccup was when my ring was a bit too tight.
Bonnie: I shoved it on. It was like, “Fit! Fit!” Afterward, Mike’s eldest daughter held a small backyard reception, which was a nice surprise. We have five kids combined and we told all of them the news two days before. We had confetti poppers and champagne.
Mike: And we fed each other wedding cake. We did some traditions.

A photo of a Black newlywed couple walking on a brick path

A reception for two—that didn’t wrap up until the wee hours

Natasha and Sam
Toronto
May 24, 2020

Natasha: We were planning a big fat wedding: 200 guests, 12 people in our wedding party, a multi-course meal and late-night food stations. Our date was May 24, but by early April we had sent out notes to our guests saying that, unfortunately, the plan was off. We talked about maybe postponing getting married, but we decided that we wanted to keep the date and do something smaller. I don’t think I realized how small.
Sam: We started looking at our options, and there weren’t a lot. This was April 2020, so everything was closed—you couldn’t even go to city hall. We spoke with our pastor, and he said that he could do it at our church, which was what we wanted anyway.
Natasha: We were only allowed five people—the officiant, Sam and me, his sister and one close friend. All of my family live outside of the province. Everyone was going to be meeting for the first time at the wedding. We had planned all of these dinners in the days leading up. Instead, almost everyone got together on Zoom.
Sam: I remember going onto a video call and our families were already chatting. That’s definitely a memory that sticks out for me. Like, just a few weeks prior and the whole scene would have been unexplainable. And then here we all are, making it work.
Natasha: I had bought my wedding dress back in August 2019, but I wasn’t able to get it altered because everything was closed. I found a Calvin Klein dress from the Bay instead. It was relaxed. Everything was relaxed.
Sam: We got ready at our place together, and we went to the church together. We were almost there when I realized I had forgotten the rings at home.
Natasha: He said to me, “Well, I guess that’s why you have a best man!” The ceremony was short and beautiful, which is one of the pros of a church—you don’t have to decorate. It all took about 20 minutes. We spent some time taking photos but we were still home by 6 p.m. And it was a bit like, “Okay, now what?”
Sam: A lot of friends had sent us champagne and chocolate, so we had our own celebration. We had our first dance—“Find Someone Like You” by Snoh Aalegra—in the living room, just the two of us, and stayed up until 3 a.m. We were so excited and happy. The champagne helped. It’s funny because we put so much time into planning this wedding that was really for other people, and then the day was all about us.
Natasha: We found out I was pregnant about eight weeks later, and now we have our beautiful daughter, Emani. This year has been absolutely nothing like we imagined, but we have been so lucky. My original dress is still hanging in my closet. We definitely want to do a celebration when things are back to normal, we just don’t know when that will be. Plus, now we have a pretty cute flower girl.

A photo of a bride and groom and their officiant on a dock, all laughing

The couple’s officiant, Mark Allan Groleau, promises “unboring” weddings. (Photo: Nicole Reid Photography)

A creative solution to a cross-border celebration

Alex and Lindsay
St. Stephen, N.B.
October 10, 2020

Alex: We had our wedding planned for August 2020—your typical 100-guest reception kind of thing.
Lindsay: At first we thought we would just push everything back by a year, but then I started to worry that maybe summer 2021 wouldn’t work either. I started reassessing our options. We live in Nova Scotia but I grew up in Calais, Maine, which is just across
the St. Croix river from St. Stephen. A lot of my mom and stepdad’s side of the family are in Maine, so when the border shut down, it got complicated.
Alex: Lindsay came to me with this idea to do a cross-border wedding.
Lindsay: At first I thought we could get married on the beach in St. Stephen, and my American family could pull up in boats. But then I realized that the tide would be too far out and the boats wouldn’t be able to come near us. That’s when I thought of the wharf.

An overhead view of the wharf in St. Stephen, N.B. and the boat landing in Calais, Maine

(Photo: Ray Simpson)

Alex: We had to submit a safety plan before [the town] would agree to rent it to us. It had been recently rebuilt, which was nice. I ordered my suit super-last-minute. And then, in true COVID fashion, I got a giant hand sanitizer stain on it while I was trying it on. Luckily, we had time to get it cleaned.
Lindsay: I bought my dress back in January. My mom came shopping with me, and that ended up being the last time I saw her before my wedding day! She was very involved in the planning, though. I think she was on the phone with the mayor of St. Stephen 10 minutes after I called to tell her what I was thinking. We had to cut down on numbers, so pretty much everyone who was at the wedding was involved. My stepmom did my hair, my maid of honour’s mom did my makeup and her dad surprised us with a sound system on the wharf. It felt like being in one of those cheesy Hallmark movies where the whole town comes together to make something happen. A dozen of my American relatives lined up on that side of the river. My grandparents and aunt and uncle pulled up beside us in a boat. They brought a blowhorn!
Alex: The officiant actually had to tell them to quiet down.
Lindsay: And, in the end, we had a wedding day that felt so special and unique. At one point, we were thinking we would do another “wedding” when the border opens up again, but now we think, no way. That was our wedding day, and it was amazing.