Several cancellations, multiple guest lists and a rollercoaster of emotions later, some soon-to-be-wed couples in the Ottawa region are breathing a collective, but cautious sigh of relief as Ontario enters its third stage of reopening.
"Every lockdown, every wave or strain of this COVID has been very stressful," said bride Carly Sparling, who had to postpone her August 2020 wedding, and has now spent two years planning for the big day.
When she heard Ontario would enter Step 3 of its reopening plan ahead of schedule, Sparling was overjoyed because it allowed her to re-invite some immediate family members that couldn't make their tentative tiny guest list.
"I was ecstatic, like super emotional and happy," she said. "[I] probably couldn't have received better news so close to the wedding day."
On Saturday, Sparling and her partner will wed outdoors in Renfrew County surrounded by 100 friends and family — just one day after the province loosened up restrictions.
Step 3 allows for larger indoor and outdoor gatherings. Venues can have:
Up to 1,000 people indoors, or half capacity (whichever is less) while physically distancing.
Up to 5,000 people outdoors, or 75 per cent of its capacity (whichever is less) with distancing.
Private properties can host 25 indoors and 100 outdoors.
A spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries said dancing at wedding receptions in Step 3 — either at private dwellings or venues — is allowed with conditions.
Gatherings must comply with requirements under Step 3 rules for dining and dance facilities, the spokesperson noted, which include masking and distancing rules.
Sparling's wedding won't be close to "normal" — no hugging, physically-distanced greetings, households seated in bubbles, and her radio host uncle providing most of the entertainment — but she's optimistic.
"It's going to be a great day no matter what," she said.
Worried about variants
After almost two years planning her wedding, Michelle Connolly describes the journey as "emotional, nerve-racking, frustrating."
She was swept away by emotions when she found out Step 3 would begin before she ties the knot.
"It was probably about 20 minutes of crying to be honest," she said.
WATCH | Bride-to-be describes stressful planning:
"It's been a definite rollercoaster of emotions but we're almost there, and I can't wait to make Michelle my wife!" said her fiancé David Wilton.
The big day also carries even more significance for the couple because Connolly's late mother won't be there. Wilton's father also died within the past year.
"This wedding means more to us [and] we know that they're going to be there watching over us," said Wilton.
The couple will wed on July 31 with about 50 guests at a hotel overlooking the Rideau River. Connolly said it will mean the world to her to dance with her father, and have Wilton dance with his mother.
They are holding their breath in case another lockdown happens within the next two weeks.
"I'm still worried about the variants that are out there," said Connolly. "I'm really hoping there isn't a wave four."
'Brink of a wedding boom,' says vendor
Stacy Kenopic, an Ottawa wedding photographer, said it's been slow for wedding vendors up until last week when news of Step 3 was announced.
"We're on the brink of a wedding boom," she said. "Bookings are insane for 2021, 2022 ... I'm getting multiple bookings or inquiries a day."
On Saturday Kenopic, who also got married during the pandemic in September, will shoot her first eight-hour-long wedding since 2019.
She says she looks forward to watching her industry return to some form of normal for couples' sakes. She expects to see "bigger and better" weddings starting this winter.
"I'm looking forward to more people getting together," she said. "It makes me happy that they're happy."