Renfrew --This past Saturday Jessica McLaren and Kevin Wudkevich exchanged wedding vows with Renfrew’s iconic yellow CPR caboose serving as a backdrop, a backdrop they were worried might not be there when the time came to say ‘I do.’
However, after two years of false starts brought on by occupancy restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the newlyweds shared their first kiss as husband and wife much to the delight of 20 family members and close friends. They came together not only to acknowledge the importance of this special day, but they wanted to show their support for the old caboose since there is a chance the landmark may be removed and sold for scrap metal.
The couple first met in 2017 when Mrs. Wudkevich noticed a man across the street from her Renfrew home went out each day to take his dog, Henry, for a walk. Being an avid dog lover herself with two busy dogs of her own, she struck up a conversation not knowing that small talk about their dogs would eventually lead her to exchanging vows with her neighbour four years later.
Speaking to the Leader on Sunday while en route to Glenview Cottage near Mr. Wudkevich’s home town of Sault Ste. Marie, Mrs. Wudkevich said they soon discovered they had a great deal in common aside from their love of dogs.
“Little talks about dogs soon developed into much more and after a couple of years and a lot of walks with our dogs, Kevin proposed and we started making plans for our wedding. That was late 2019 so we were looking forward to the summer of 2020 and having a modest wedding. We wanted our family and close friends to be a part of it but it seems COVID had other plans for us.”
The first summer date was cancelled and as things appeared to be getting better in terms of the number of people contracting the sometimes-fatal virus, they set their eyes on a wedding in the autumn to take advantage of the changing colours of the leaves.
“Our autumn wedding also fell through because the rate of infection was increasing and tough guidelines were put in place and we agreed that 2020 was not going to happen and we would wait to see what the situation was like in the summer of 2021,” she said. “Over the four years we were together we would frequently meet at the caboose for a coffee and we often took our kids there and had a picnic. I have so many great memories of playing at the caboose as a young girl and I want my kids to have fond memories of the caboose.”
As the COVID-related occupancy restrictions began to loosen in May of this year, the couple decided it was now or never to plan for their big day.
“About six weeks ago we said, how about July 24, and we also wondered if the caboose would still be there for our wedding,” she said. “I called Donna (McWhirter) at the town’s rec centre and asked about using town facilities for a wedding. Right away she told us a lot of couples use the Swinging Bridge for the ceremony and photos.
“When I told her we wanted to use the caboose, she stopped for a moment and said she could not recall if a wedding was ever held there. That was all we needed. Not only were we going to start our new life in front of the caboose before it might be removed, but we might very well be the first wedding held there, although I am not sure about that.”
This past May Renfrew town council received a report from Kevin Hill, the town’s director of recreation, outlining varying options for the caboose. It has been locked up for a few years and is in need of a major facelift, including sandblasting suspected lead paint off the structure, repairing the roof that has fallen in due to water damage and other upgrades to meet current municipal accessibility standards.
Those repairs could cost more than $600,000.
At the time, council seriously considered removing the caboose and selling it for scrap metal and that in turn led to an outcry from some town residents. They formed an adhoc committee that is currently fundraising and petitioning fellow residents to save it. They argue the caboose represents the history of the town and they have the volunteers and enough money to perform some structural repairs and give the faded railway car a much needed new coat of paint.
Town council has yet to make a decision about the future of the caboose, but the newlyweds hope their public display of support will help convince members of council not to abandon the landmark and instead make the investment needed so it can continue being the unofficial anchor of Howie Haramis Park.
“It was an absolutely beautiful ceremony and we were thrilled that our third attempt to get married worked out for us,” she said. “Getting married in front of our family and friends really made the day special. But having the old caboose as part of our ceremony is something I will always cherish. Who knows, we may have started a trend and if that means we helped save the caboose, then our special day will have a very special memory to go along with it.”
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader