Weddings

“COVID-19 Cancelled Our Wedding, So We Exchanged Vows Alone”

The financial and emotional toll of wedding cancellations can be devastating. We spoke to Canadian brides and small business owners about how the coronavirus has affected their lives

While weddings are the backdrop for most of our favourite rom-coms, from Runaway Bride to The Wedding Planner and Bridesmaids, there has yet to be one depicting how to handle getting hitched during a global pandemic. Julia and J.Lo, where you at? 

Wedding season is upon us but as we continue to practice social distancing and stay home in a collective effort to flatten the curve and grapple with uncertainty of when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, the industry is at a standstill. 

Canadians spend on average $31,000 on their wedding, according to a 2019 survey by The Knot, while a 2020 WeddingWire Report notes that couples hire a minimum of fifteen vendors and prepare one to two years in advance. From stationery and catering to florists, DJs and photographers, wedding professionals play a vital role in creating a memorable day for the happy couple and their closest friends and family. A wedding is also often the only event where this select group of people will all be in the same place.

It’s easy to trivialize a celebratory event in the middle of a crisis, but in recognizing the impact the coronavirus has had, and will continue to have, on the economy, it’s impossible to ignore how hard the $5 billion dollar wedding industry in Canada has been hit.

The financial and emotional losses have not only affected brides and grooms, but also the small businesses that rely on this peak season to stay afloat the rest of the year. 

I spoke with Canadian women, from Nova Scotia to Nunavut, who share their experiences—not only the hardships, but the creative ways they’ve adapted in this challenging climate—of how COVID-19 has impacted their weddings or livelihood. The silver lining: love really does conquer (almost) all. 

Interviews have been lightly edited for length and clarity.  


“Coronavirus cancelled our wedding, so we exchanged vows alone by the lake”

(Photo: Virgil Barrow)

“My wedding day is a day I have always dreamed of. I know everyone says that, but I mean it. I have been planning this day and envisioning all aspects of it for as long as I can remember. I was just over a week away from my dream becoming a reality when a global pandemic happened and for us, our only option was to postpone our wedding for the safety of our loved ones.

We decided to postpone before we were told we had to, which helped a bit in that we felt we had some control in the situation. It was a really hard decision and I was devastated but once I had run out of tears to cry, I was back in planning mode and trying to decide what we would do instead. Our plan B was an entire mini wedding with our immediate family at a Toronto restaurant. We’d have the ceremony, followed by an intimate dinner. But the restaurants were forced to close shortly after we cancelled our plan A wedding so we were back to the drawing board. 

Financially, because our wedding date was planned for March 21, 2020, most of our vendors were already paid in full so we are out thousands of dollars for the time being, but it will be transferred to our new date. For vendors that are not able to make our new date, we unfortunately have lost those non-refundable deposits. Our guests were also on our mind right when we postponed and we felt guilty for the money that they may also lose. A lot of our guests were flying in from out of town, even a few from Europe. For most of them, hotels gave full refunds and airlines have issued credits so my hope is that it didn’t impact them too heavily.

We decided to make plan C just about us, in a place that we hoped would not be impacted—outside. We wrote some vows, got all dressed up, made some homemade wedding bands out of rope and ventured down to a little beach on Lake Ontario.

We exchanged vows and said ‘I Do’ before slipping our new rings onto each other’s fingers. Our friend captured the moment from a distance to show our families and the rest is history! We didn’t have an officiant present so we aren’t officially married but our vows were so real and raw and made me realize that’s all you really need. We are so close with our families and want them to be there to witness our official ceremony, whenever that day will come. I never in a million years dreamed of my ‘wedding day’ looking like this, but it was perfect.

Coincidentally, I’m also a wedding planner, and year two of my business is looking much different than anticipated. Almost all of my weddings for 2020 have been postponed into 2021. This will definitely have an impact on my bottom line, but having the unique perspective of experiencing what my couples are currently facing in postponing a day they have spent years planning, I’m heartbroken for them and my only goal is to ease their stress. All deposits are transferable to their new date and there is no fee to reschedule. Wedding and event vendors are being hit hard because of the intense event ban that is affecting so many businesses, big and small. I am fortunate to work with amazing couples and hope for a prosperous 2021 when all of this is (hopefully) behind us. It’s a hard time for everyone right now—all we can do is work with compassion and kindness and do the best we can.”

—Paige Cunningham, founder of Paige Caroline Weddings and Events, Hamilton, Ont.

 

“Over 50% of my wedding bookings as a photographer have been postponed”

(Photo: Fiona Chiu)

“COVID-19 has brought on realities the wedding industry has never seen before. It is especially hard because the industry consists of many small business owners who do this as their full-time job; potentially losing up to a full year’s worth of income is something that none of us prepared for. 

As of right now, 50% of my weddings have been postponed and I’m chatting with some other couples regarding their backup plans. I do anticipate more postponements as we get more updates on restrictions around gatherings from the government. The majority of the 2020 weddings are being rescheduled for 2021 which has made things a bit tricky; with these weddings filling up dates in 2021, that leaves less availability for new inquiries. 2021 dates are filling up way quicker than they normally would [this far in advance] but I’m hopeful that people still find ways to get married, even if it’s on a Friday, Sunday or even a weekday!

All of this has brought anxiety and stress along with it, not only of not knowing when the next couple will email with postponement news, but also not knowing what the future holds in terms of finances and maintaining my on-going business operating costs in addition to regular living expenses. It’s incredibly heartbreaking for everyone involved but at the same time, I’m confident that when the time comes for when we can gather safety and celebrate again, we will love and party harder than ever so that’s something I’m really looking forward to!”

—Fiona Chiu, wedding photographer, Kingston, Ont. 

“Our elopement from Nunavut was cancelled, but an even bigger surprise awaited” 

(Photo: Dennis P. Boyle)

“I’ve heard planning a wedding isn’t for the faint of heart. This has proven to be an understatement. I consider myself the imaginative and resourceful type, the one you would want by your side as you plan your wedding. Surprisingly, when it was my turn to tie the knot, I had a reaction that revealed itself as crippling anxiety. My partner and I come from large east-coast families so the guest list turned into a wild monster overnight and we had a really difficult time making edits we both agreed on. Logistically, it was also challenging trying to plan a wedding from Nunavut. After a long and agonizing battle, my partner and I agreed to elope. 

We planned to exchange our vows and have a civil ceremony on March 20, 2020 in Old Montreal, just the two of us. Everything was in place, the boutique hotel, the lavish cheese plate and wine to be delivered, the intimate ceremony, topping it off with an indulgent dinner we would feast on while playing footsie under the table.

In the days leading up to our elopement, Iqaluit, Nunavut (where we live) announced a work-from-home transition. Our daycare closed, and both my partner and I were now working full-time from home with our year-and-a-half old daughter, Greta. I work as a project manager for the Nunavut Film Development Corporation and Michael works for the Government of Nunavut as a manager of public agencies.We made the difficult, but necessary, decision to cancel our dreamy elopement. That was tough. Selfishly, I still grieve that three-day weekend. I still mourn the outfit I had planned to wear; those Edie Sedgwick earrings, that baby blue floral shift dress. I grieve the incredibly rare opportunity I had to share three full days with the love of my life, alone, in our beloved favourite city, celebrating us.  

The hotel in Montreal cancelled on us as the pandemic affected Quebec earlier than Nunavut.They shut down due to COVID-19 the week of March 16 and gave us a full refund. By that Friday, WestJet had cancelled its flights across Canada, Air Canada dramatically reduced its routes and the government of Nunavut urged residents to avoid unnecessary travel. We received a flight credit and cancelled the childcare we’d arranged for Greta.

The stream of emails that showered my inbox with kind words and support from friends and family has been overwhelming. In light of what is happening globally, we are very much the lucky ones. Our wedding can wait. COVID-19 has really put into perspective the importance of community, gathering, face-to-face interaction and the generosity and kindness of neighbours to help in hard times. The humanity in it all is quite moving.

In the meantime, while we wait for our postponed elopement next summer, and just to keep things interesting, we remain devoted to growing this COVID baby in my ever-growing belly to add to the big boom—surprise!” 

—Corinne Dunphy, project manager, Iqaluit, Nunavut

“Taking a break from wedding planning—and the heteronormative wedding industry—feels OK during this stressful time”

(Photo: Lindsay Beattie and Marianna Margaret)

“For our engagement (pre-COVID-19), I had been working with a remarkably talented jewellery designerErica Leal, who I’d met through my fiancé Lindsay the summer before. I really loved the design of a ring in one of her collections, so Erica gave me lots of options on what type of stone and how to source it. We riffed back and forth and she suggested a stone from Diamond Foundry, a lab-made, carbon-neutral diamond, molding the band with recycled rose gold. It was really important for me to get a mine-free, responsibly sourced piece. Her personal relationship with Lindsay also influenced the incredible final design, and the whole experience was really special.

Unfortunately, the weather almost completely derailed the arrival of the ring in Quebec while on our trip. A few big snowstorms rolled through the region which made for a very memorable couple of ski days; it almost made me forget how nervous I was that the ring wasn’t going to make it. On the second last day of the trip, the ring was expected to arrive, but my nerves got the better of me. While we hiked through the neighbouring provincial park to our chalet, I asked Lindsay to marry me without the rehearsal I’d been practicing in my head for the last few weeks. It was a complete improvisation that ended with a second question: will you drive in this blizzard to a grocery store that has a FedEx locker with me? We cut our hike short. And then, the coronavirus pandemic hit.”

—Marianna Margaret, Toronto, Ont.

“We will have to wait and see how everything pans out [once restrictions are relaxed], but we’ve chosen to host the wedding ceremony and reception at my parent’s property in Grey County. Not only is it a huge relief to secure a venue when planning a wedding in these times, but the added sentimental value of this day taking place somewhere so meaningful for us, once we can gather again, is really special. Marianna and I have had time at home together because of our work schedules changing so drastically, so we’ve still reached out to vendors, caterers, and tent companies to try and keep some momentum; partially to keep some normalcy of planning the actual wedding day, and partially to distract ourselves from how much of our regular routine is now so different. 

Being a queer couple and navigating so many hetero/patriarchal conventions of wedding planning doesn’t really change whether or not there’s a pandemic. When writing to a vendor about a rental, I’ve received replies from company reps with greetings such as, ‘congrats to the bride and groom!’ So, taking a break from the heteronormative wedding industry feels OK during this stressful time, too.

The experience of the pandemic thus far has been really illuminating, giving us this sense of pause to take time to really evaluate what we want. We’re taking longer dog walks than usual these days, where we’re able to take more time to discuss what we really want out of the day and what weddings are really all about. The best advice we’ve heard repeatedly from friends and family is to not make concessions for other people’s wishes and create a memory we want to have of the day both for ourselves and our guests. 

Ultimately, the last few months have of course been worrisome and frustrating, but it’s also encouraged us to go with the flow, take things in stride and be grateful for what we do have. It’s been an exercise in letting go of what we can’t control. The plan is to get married, but how it all comes to fruition on the day will still encounter twists and turns of its own, and we’re excited to see what that brings.”

—Lindsay Beattie, Toronto, Ont.

“Our bridal business heavily depends on wedding season, but our busiest months were our slowest this year”

(Photo: Mani Jassal)

“The coronavirus has affected my brand’s business in a major way. Weddings have been postponed or cancelled, so naturally brides are not looking into purchasing outfits at the moment. Our business heavily depends on the wedding season. February and March are typically our busiest months, and this year they were the slowest.

Last year during this time, we had about five seamstresses and two cutters working in the studio. Right now, it is just myself and my mom. We had to send our employees home since we are considered a non-essential business. As work is limited, I’ve been OK taking on the roles of cutter, sewer, administrator, and marketer, but there are days where it feels overwhelming. 

We are offering virtual design consultations with clients through FaceTime and Skype since they aren’t able to physically make it to the showroom. They are asked to browse our collections on the website first and then let me know which pieces they would like to see during the consultation where they can ask more questions and see close-ups. We also do a lot of mixing and matching and it allows people to see what a top would look like with a certain skirt that isn’t already shown together.

At first, it was really disheartening to have sales be so low, but what makes me feel OK about it is that every industry is going through something like this and we are in it together. As a creative, the time off feels like a blessing in disguise. I have been using the time to work on some sketches and illustrations, create content for the brand’s Instagram page, and re-strategize the marketing aspect of my business. I’ve also been doing some styling videos on TikTok. One of our videos had over 40,000 views once we posted it. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of TikTok’s video quality, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the views on it once we posted the video on Instagram.

I am supposed to be getting married myself this July, but my fiancé and I have been waiting to see how everything plays out. We thought things may be better by mid-May, but looking at things now, it doesn’t seem like we will be able to have our family from out of the country attend. We are planning on doing a small intimate ceremony at home in July instead, and then do the big Indian wedding next year. The process of adjusting our plans has been frustrating since we have to coordinate new dates with families, vendors and venues.

I am hopeful though, because I know that once all of this is over, it will be double the weddings the next season. We are just trying to enjoy the calm before the storm.”

—Mani Jassal, owner and designer of Mani Jassal Luxury Evening Wear and Bridal Brand, Toronto, Ont.

“Our cut flower business has taken a crushing blow, forcing our Picton location to close”

(Photo: Alison Westlake)

“We are in the midst of something I could never have imagined and I was completely ill-prepared for. Most small businesses aren’t sitting on extra revenue, often we invest all money back into the business, whether it’s buying more inventory or expanding the business. In the summer of 2015 we opened a second location in Prince Edward County, in addition to our original Toronto shop, to accommodate the growing demand for weddings and events. It was a financial stretch creating more debt, but the current season was supposed to help pay off most of it. Cut to this unbelievable event and my business is suffering tremendously with a number of wedding postponements and event cancellations. 

One of the things we did immediately was to close our retail locations; now we’re working on offering more products for online purchase. Our Toronto manager, Deanna, offers a limited number of weekly flower arrangements for delivery. She handles all operations from start to finish by herself, even though the demand is far greater. I can sleep at night because I believe I’m making decisions from an ethical place. Limiting the number of employees down to one until business resumes was challenging, but ensures Deanna’s health and safety. She controls all the variables and doesn’t have to worry about sharing space with someone who rode the subway that morning.

Deanna has poured her heart and soul into her designs because people are needing to spread the love more than ever. We believe flowers help bring comfort and support mental health. 

Our Picton location is fully closed until further notice. May and June have been the hardest hit with the greatest number of cancellations and I anticipate more will come. 

Another way we are pivoting and trying to recoup the loss is by growing more flowers at the farm in Sophiasburgh, Prince Edward County. We hope to supply future weddings with dahlias, zinnias, cosmos, scabiosa and grasses that have been sprouting under grow lights and will be planted out after the last frost in May.

I am lucky in comparison to others who have to close their businesses completely. My heart goes out to so many folks who are experiencing real pain, those who have lost a loved one or the people on the front lines. As a business owner, I’m not a stranger to unexpected hardships and I’ve learned to adapt but this is uncharted territory. I think it’s important to not let fear and anxiety govern the thought process, easier said than done, but for me I have to stay positive and I have to focus on the things I can control.

For me, COVID-19 is offering a major lesson that there are no guarantees and that’s going to naturally inform every decision I make moving forward. I never want to feel this vulnerable in business again. It’s also an opportunity to take inventory on what’s working and what’s not.”

—Alison Westlake, owner of Coriander Girl, Prince Edward County, Ont.

“My bachelorette was cancelled and we’re facing postponement of our east coast wedding”  

(Photo: Ellen Purves)

“I’d been looking forward to my bachelorette in Charleston, South Carolina for the last nine months. Being in my thirties, and having a collection of friends across multiple provinces who are all getting married, buying homes, or having children, I was thrilled that ten ladies were able to book a long weekend off to fly down to Charleston for an epic celebration.

In early March, I thought coronavirus may affect our international flights the weekend of April 23, 2020, so we planned to switch to a domestic location in Montreal as a ‘back-up,’ but then everything changed quickly. By mid-March, Charleston and Montreal were out and I was social distancing at home with all non-essential businesses closed for the foreseeable future.

I felt all the emotions—shock, disbelief, heartbreak, anger, grief and even guilt. The world seemed to be falling apart by the minute and I was upset over a cancelled bachelorette. I felt guilty that this was upsetting me when people were sick, out of work and literally dying. In the end, I’ve accepted that it’s OK to feel all these feelings and that they are valid. I can both be sad for the loss of my own milestones and be sad for the world.

Now that we are more than a month into social distancing, we have to start considering postponing our July 18, 2020 wedding at White Point in Nova Scotia. For the first week of quarantine, I couldn’t even bear the thought of this. However, the unknown really perpetuates anxiety and, after a few breakdowns, my partner and I decided to be proactive and look into postponement options. Our vendors have all been amazing and offered to switch to any date they have available in 2020 or 2021 without penalty.

Having a plan and the support of our family and friends has made all the difference. I may end up with a bachelorette after the wedding or a Friday wedding a year later than expected but I know that everything will still be perfect in its own way. I have the most supportive partner I could ask for and this will be a great story for the kids someday.”

—Ellen Purves, pharmacist, Halifax, N.S.

“It’s heartbreaking to tell a client they won’t get their wedding bands” 

(Photo: Eden Philippa)

“I’ve owned my business for six years and have never experienced anything like this before. My focus is on engagement rings and wedding bands, which accounts for about 90% of my business, so it’s been hit hard. While many of my customers are postponing their plans, a few decided to elope. Thankfully I had rings in stock so I was able to provide them with wedding bands for their ceremonies. It’s truly unprecedented times that I never would have been able to plan for. 

However, for those whose pieces were in production pre-COVID-19, the promised deadlines were no longer able to be met due to non-essential business closures, including those of my gem setters and casting house. It’s heartbreaking to tell a client that they won’t have their wedding bands for their ceremony. Overall, people have been understanding, but emotionally and financially it’s been difficult dealing with the uncertainty of the pandemic and the shutdowns. Missing client’s important deadlines and not being able to set future deadlines has been tough.

I’m still able to go to my studio as I work alone and continue to design bespoke and collection pieces. I’ve been having virtual appointments via Zoom and FaceTime with couples so they are still able to see pieces on my hand and check out the profile and sparkle of the rings. I’ve also been trying to use this time to update my website and plan for when businesses open up again.  

It’s hard to say if things will go back to normal in the wedding industry in the next year as I know a lot of people are dealing with financial uncertainty and getting engaged or married might not be a priority anymore.” 

—Eden Philippa, Goldsmith & Jewelry Designer, Toronto, Ont.

“We’ve had to convert our wedding stationery business to Zoom consultations”  

(Photo: 5ive15ifteen Photo Co.)

“The past few weeks have been a real whirlwind. All of a sudden, weddings that had been in the works for months have now been postponed for 2021 and the new clientele we usually expect this time of year has been slow to trickle in. To say it has impacted our business both in the way we function day to day, and the sales we anticipate seasonally, would be an understatement. 

Luckily, with a little bit of additional prep work, we’ve found that video calls have quite successfully replaced our in-person consultations, allowing us to continue to meet with those clients who want to get the ball rolling on their wedding stationery. The silver lining for many clients who want to work on their wedding invitations is that the proofing process for our design work can now be done over email.  

We’ve made efforts to inspire 2021 couples to get started on their stationery now, while everyone is at home on their computers. It’s actually an incredibly productive use of clients’ time—while the world feels like it has stopped—to develop their custom wedding invitation design. By the time updated dates and venues have been confirmed, we can plug any new details into the finished design, and send it to print immediately.

Unlike many other wedding vendors, we’re not necessarily a ‘date-specific’ reservation that needs to be made. We can take on an infinite number of clients on the same wedding date, since invitations are mailed out months in advance, and other ‘day-of’ stationery (such as menus, place cards and seating charts) are picked up by the client or planner the week of the wedding. With so many couples scrambling to renegotiate contracts and rebook vendors for new dates, the little piece of good news is that we’ll be ready and available for any new date that our clients need us for.

Like many other small businesses, we have newly advertised gift cards as a way of ‘reserving’ some design time with us, if it’s not needed immediately. We find it makes for a really beautiful gift for an engaged couple who has had to potentially forfeit deposits with other vendors in order to postpone their wedding date, and supports small business at the same time.

However, gift cards have not taken off nearly as much as our pre-stamped ‘Colour-in Quarantine’ postcards—one theme for kids, another for adults—to both raise funds for regionready.ca, a local hospital foundation, and inspire those staying at home to connect with their loved ones through the mail. As stationers, it’s an opportunity to keep both the art of letter writing, as well as our small business, relevant in these strange times. Truthfully, it’s been incredibly successful, and has opened us up to a new market beyond brides and grooms.

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G I V E A W A Y C L O S E D – but you can still purchase! ⠀ While we’re all at home, what better way to communicate with the people you miss than our “Greetings from Quarantine” Postcards! We recently sent these out to our nearest and dearest as a little treat, but we’ve had so many inquiries since reposting them that we’ve decided to do a giveaway! You can also purchase a 4 pack (includes 2 of each postcard design) through the link in our bio for $14.95. All proceeds will go towards regionready.ca, a foundation jointly benefiting Waterloo area hospitals to help fund their COVID-related needs! ⠀ Giveaway Rules: 1) Must follow us! @paperandposte 2) Tag at least one friend who likes to colour! 3) Winner will be announced at 6pm today and contacted via direct message! ⠀ This contest is not affiliated with Instagram. ⠀ If you’d like purchase a 4 pack of postcards to colour and show your support, visit the link in our bio to order before Friday, April 24th at 6pm EST. To encourage social distancing, postcards come pre-stamped with permanent postage to mail anywhere within Canada.

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We’ve also tried to promote other areas of our business while weddings are taking a hit. While we identify as a wedding stationery design studio, we are still, in essence, a design firm that can take on all kinds of design work from branding to digital assets. While 2020 weddings are on pause, we’re forced to come up with creative solutions to increase revenue, and keep the studio relevant—truthfully, it’s allowed us to expand the scope of our work and inspire our team to think beyond the status quo of what Paper & Poste has been for so long.”

—Lexi McKenna and Beckee Kavanagh, owners of Paper & Poste, Toronto, Ont.

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