British Columbia

Marriage commissioner shortage in remote B.C. community means couples may need to wait to say 'I do'

Lorraine Zirke is the only marriage commissioner in Field, B.C., and she's going for a one-month holiday in May. The province has yet to appoint another marriage commissioner to officiate weddings while she's away.

Only 384 active marriage commissioners across B.C., according to health ministry

A woman dressed in a wedding gown with her back facing the camera while holding flower bunch.
The unincorporated community of Field, B.C., near the border with Alberta, is looking for a marriage commissioner to fill in for the only commissioner in town, who will be going on holiday soon. (Shutterstock)

A tiny community in B.C.'s East Kootenay region is in dire need of government officials to help couples say "I do" on their big day.

Lorraine Zirke has been the only marriage commissioner in Field, B.C. — an unincorporated community of about 150 people located 15 kilometres west of the B.C.-Alberta border — since the only other commissioner in town stopped officiating weddings recently due to health issues.

Zirke, who has served as a marriage commissioner for almost five years, will be leaving town in mid-May for a one-month family holiday in Europe.

She says the provincial Ministry of Health's Vital Statistics Agency still hasn't appointed a new commissioner to replace her while she is away.

"Definitely we need to have the second one here," she told host Chris Walker on CBC's Daybreak South.

"Being the only one, I felt that I could never say no to anyone's request [to officiate weddings]."

Zirke says she officiates eight to 10 marriages per month at the Emerald Lake Lodge, a popular wedding venue for people from B.C., Alberta, and beyond.

Officiating non-religious weddings

Marriage commissioners officiate non-religious wedding ceremonies. 

Under B.C.'s Marriage Act, other people with power to solemnize marriages include religious representatives registered with the Vital Statistics Agency, and Indigenous members designated under First Nations law in treaty with federal and provincial governments.

Commissioners must live in the communities where the weddings take place, and cannot serve for more than 10 years.

According to the province, candidates for marriage commissioner jobs must also be retired or semi-retired, not involved in activities that may be considered a conflict of interest, and be able to provide their own transportation.

Marriage commissioners aren't salaried positions. The health ministry says the $75 basic civil ceremony fee, and other fees including parking costs and extra hours on top of the one-hour included in the basic ceremony fee, are meant to reimburse their expenses in officiating weddings. 

Difficult to recruit in remote communities

In a written statement to CBC News, the Ministry of Health says there are currently 384 active marriage commissioners across the province. It admits recruitment is difficult in less populated, remote communities.

Zirke says she got the job a month after one interview — the Vital Statistics Agency interviewer told her she was the only applicant in Field at the time.

If the agency doesn't find a marriage commissioner in the community before Zirke leaves for her vacation, it could assign commissioners in Golden to travel 35 kilometres to the community. 

But Zirke says it's not feasible, given intermittent road closures due to the Kicking Horse Canyon project to upgrade Highway 1.

Nonetheless, Zirke says she is hopeful — she says she has convinced her neighbour, Michale Lang, to apply as a marriage commissioner last month.

Lang has been doing consultancy work from home since retiring as a museum manager a decade ago.

She says she's interested in officiating weddings because it allows her to get out, meet people in person, and share their joy.

"It's really wonderful to help people get off to a good start together," she said, adding she expects to receive her application result before mid-May — and hopes her neighbours will also apply for the job.

People interested in applying to become a marriage commissioners can visit the B.C. government website for vacancies.

With files from Daybreak South