Whitewater Region -- Joe Kowalski is hopeful he and his son Joel will soon be officiating at weddings at their Wilderness Tours business.
Mr. Kowalski spoke to council at its ZOOM meeting March 3, telling council Whitewater Region is growing as a destination wedding area and Wilderness Tours is growing that part of its business.
“We have the ideal municipality for outdoor weddings,” he said. “I’d like to perform weddings and only if asked to do it,” he said. “We can weave the river into the wedding ceremony.”
Wilderness Tours has been host to weddings for the past 20 years, Mr. Kowalski said.
In his letter to council, he wrote: “We never intended to be in the wedding business, but the overwhelming beauty of the rapids prompted numerous couples to ask to be married by the river. While people seem less religious, they seem to be more spiritual and the river is nature’s cathedral. That is why it’s important that Joel and I become officiants.”
Mr. Kowalski further spoke about the Elopement Chapel that a small building on the property will be changed into. This would be the place for smaller weddings. Because of Covid, there is a demand for very small weddings, as well as prompt impulse weddings, he added.
“By being officiants, we can react quickly to those couples not wanting to wait,” he said. “I’m like a Boy Scout, I like to be prepared.”
There are two ways of officiating at a wedding -- as an ordained minister, or being appointed by the local municipality, he said.
Councillors Neil Nicholson and Charlene Jackson fully supported the idea of promoting wedding tourism.
“From a wedding tourism perspective, I love that opportunity, and I think it’s another way for us to economically develop Whitewater Region, because we do have some unique outdoor features,” Coun. Nicholson said.
He is hopeful staff will generate a clear policy and standards to ensure the quality of service the township provides is the same regardless of where the service is being performed.
“I want to know that the same experience is received by anybody receiving a marriage through one of our delegates,” Coun. Nicholson said.
Coun. Jackson said Wilderness Tours is a great place to do weddings.
“To have the simplicity of having staff on the property to be able to do that, whether one or two people who are allowed to do that, I think that would be helpful for our businesses in Whitewater Region and in particular Joe’s business,” she said.
She questioned if Mr. Kowalski has been advised of what is required to become a wedding officiant.
Chief Administrative Officer Robert Tremblay said Mr. Kowalski has agreed to do what is required.
“We will work with him,” he said. “He’s committed to the training.”
The agreements and other documents will be reviewed by Clerk Carmen Miller to ensure it’s all filled out properly.
There are four community members, including Mr. Tremblay and Ms. Miller, who can officiate at weddings within the township.
“While Carmen and I love Wilderness Tours, we don’t want to be there every weekend,” smiled Mr. Tremblay. “We have faith that with the proper agreement and structure and training…we can achieve all our goals.”
Coun. Jackson said she looks forward to the next step in wedding officiating in Whitewater Region, noting small businesses, especially tourism, have been hard hit by COVID, and when it is going to end is still not known.
“I just hope all our businesses in Whitewater Region, and across the county, survive all this and move forward,” she said. “This is a great idea.”
Later in the meeting, council had opportunity to question Ms. Miller on her Marriage Solemnization report, which noted the clerk of the municipality can designate wedding officiants but is responsible for how they act during the event. It is the clerk’s responsibility to ensure all training is provided to the designates.
Coun. Nicholson thanked the people who have, and continue to, provide wedding officiating services within the township.
“They’ve accomplished a lot,” he said. “They’ve represented the township in an outstanding way and manner and provided a service that is not available to a lot of other people. This is no knock on previous officiants, but I think it’s time for us to establish some clear policies.”
The research provided in the report prepared by Ms. Miller is going in the right direction, he said.
“It’s a service I believe we want to offer in the township, non-religious marriage ceremonies, as long as they are controlled with a policy, procedure and the clerk has got it all right in this package,” Coun. Nicholson said.
Council supported the report’s recommendation that the township continues to provide marriage solemnization services; that the clerk request from the Officer of the Register General the power to issue licences and that there be a lower fee charged for delegated officiants of $25 for ceremonies rescheduled from 2020 due to COVID-19.
Connie Tabbert, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader