A recent flurry of gorgeous wedding photos taken on P.E.I. splashed across social media show not even a global pandemic can keep couples from getting hitched.
The early days of COVID-19 on P.E.I. had couples scrambling to re-book or cancel their plans, and wedding vendors like planners, photographers and venues trying to clarify rules around gatherings.
CBC asked couples via Facebook how the pandemic affected their weddings this summer. We also checked in with some wedding vendors to see how they fared.
Amandah and Ryan Woods got married back in May when pandemic rules were still strict. They exchanged their vows in front of a few friends and family — maintaining physical distancing — in their front yard in Mayfield while other family watched on Zoom or Facebook.
But many couples waited to see what Phase 4 of easing of pandemic restrictions would bring at the end of June. Weddings of fewer than 50 guests are required to have an operational plan for physical distancing, sanitation and more, and those with more than 50 are required to submit their plan for approval by P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Office.
Love won't wait
Ashley and Hayley Blanchard were married this past weekend, after making huge changes to their plans. They had originally booked a popular indoor wedding venue in Charlottetown with more than 200 guests, but when COVID hit they rebooked it for fall 2021, a full year from their original date.
"Quickly we both decided that wasn't what we wanted at all — we had already waited two years, waiting another wasn't what we wanted to do," Ashley said.
They shifted their venue to Hayley's parents' vacant lot, adding a tent large enough for 50 guests to be two metres apart at separate tables. A bridesmaid made them a COVID-19 operational plan, and they had their master of ceremonies remind guests to keep their distance and to use specific entrances and exits.
We decided that it was all in what you make it! — Santina Beaton-MacEachern
"We kept families together at tables and gave out hand sanitizers that said 'Spread love not germs' as wedding favours," Ashley said.
"We definitely followed all of the rules that have been placed and we still managed to pull off the most perfect day that we will remember forever."
Take it outside
Santina Beaton (now Beaton-MacEachern) and Jason MacEachern also married last weekend. The bride says they were lucky and kept their original wedding date, although they made many changes including the venue. They decided to proceed rather than postpone, since no one knows whether restrictions may still be in place next year.
"We changed locations to a family friend's property in Earnscliffe to have an outdoor wedding, and had a tent," she said. They had an operational plan as required by the Chief Public Health Office, lots of hand sanitizer, masks for those who wished, wipes and disinfectant.
The hardest part was paring back the guest list to 50 instead of the more than 200 originally invited, she shared.
"We felt so guilty and felt terrible to not have everyone there. We had some family, friends and a couple of bridesmaids that live outside the Atlantic bubble and couldn't make it unfortunately and that was really hard as well. Our family and friends were all amazing and understanding," Beaton-MacEachern said.
"Even with all the changes, we had the best day and it was perfect for us to have a smaller wedding. We decided that it was all in what you make it!"
'Turned out to be perfect'
"We went from a guest list of 120 to a guest list of 32 in an outdoor space," wrote Keiran Atkinson-Hardy, who married Grant Atkinson-Hardy Sept. 7. "We also changed the format of our reception last minute, but the day still turned out to be perfect."
Most of Keiran's family and friends were outside the Atlantic bubble, so that reduced the couple's list quite a bit, he said. Grant's family would have still put them over the 50-person limit so they decided to stick to the wedding party and immediate family — just 30 people — to allow lots of room for physical distancing.
"We kept the ceremony venue the same, but we cancelled the venue we had booked for our reception as it wasn't needed for such a small group. Thankfully the venue we cancelled was very understanding," Keiran said. "Everyone that really needed to be there was there, and the rest we'll enjoy celebrating with when it's safe."
They did take a honeymoon but opted for four relaxing days in Nova Scotia, and hope to do something more exciting later.
'Threw everything together'
P.E.I. fiddler Cynthia MacLeod (now Keliher) says she and her husband were planning to get married in Jamaica this winter.
"Since travel is out of the question until who-knows-when, we planned a last-minute wedding and got married on Aug. 28th with immediate family and a handful of our closest friends. It was a perfect day!" she said.
They planned the whole outdoor wedding in just three weeks, after she said they read a CBC article about how masks and social distancing will be a part of our lives for a long while yet, even once a vaccine is found.
Fortunately, she had gone dress shopping just for fun in the spring. When her sister and brother-in-law agreed to fly home from out west and quarantine for two weeks before the wedding, they "threw everything together."
"We wanted to have a fairly non-traditional wedding anyway, so it was actually a great excuse not to have a dance," she said. Dances are not allowed under current public health restrictions on P.E.I. "While we had some traditional elements — first dances, speeches, etc. — it was also a lot like a sunny, relaxed vacation day."
Besides sanitizer stations, they even had a cleaner on-site to sanitize high-touch areas.
"It was so much fun and we're so glad we decided to get married this year. We can always go to Jamaica (or elsewhere) for a honeymoon — eventually!" she said.
'Tough year' for wedding industry
Photographer Brady McCloskey shot 15 weddings this season, which he said was more than he expected but less than half of what he would normally do.
He said most weddings were smaller than normal — some with no guests, some with only a few, and some with the maximum allowed. He had many couples postpone until 2021, but others didn't want to wait so they made new plans.
"For some, it was a blessing in disguise as they had wanted a small wedding to begin with but felt pressure to plan a large wedding and invite everyone," McCloskey said.
Couples started to really see that elopements and smaller ceremonies can be just as amazing as a large wedding. — Kirsten Stewart, photographer
"I think the security of our Atlantic bubble really helped people gather safely and eased some of the anxiety around the situation," he said. "Personally, I saw my couples have an appreciation for being allowed to gather with their friends and family, and I could tell they did not take it for granted.
"It was a really tough year for our industry, but everyone pulled together to make it the best it could be," he said.
"I was originally very nervous to start my weddings for 2020 with so much unknowns," photographer Kirsten Stewart said. "It became easier after doing a couple. It was like a new routine to adjust to."
She noticed more elopements and very small ceremonies this season, which she said "led to a much more intimate and laid back day for the bride and groom." Almost every ceremony she shot also included live streaming for guests who could not attend.
Many chose a smaller ceremony this year and are planning a bigger reception next year in hopes pandemic restrictions will allow more people to travel to P.E.I. without having to self-isolate for two weeks, Stewart said.
"Many, many couples were just focused on being married and marrying their best friends ... I really do think myself and other photographers across Canada can say that our couples started to really see that elopements and smaller ceremonies can be just as amazing as a large wedding."
P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Office told CBC News via email that there were no inspections or enforcement activities related to weddings.
"Any complaints received were 'after the fact' and not possible to follow up on," a spokesperson said.
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