British Columbia

Wedding planners call for clarity as couples plan nuptials around COVID-19

As the wedding industry grapples with COVID-19 cancellations, some couples still plan to celebrate in person, and want to know what will be possible this summer.

As the wedding industry grapples with COVID-19 cancellations, some couples still plan to celebrate in person

Engaged couple Laurelle Wiens and Dan Gillis say they have pared down their guest list to meet provincial orders, but still hope to have a wedding ceremony and reception. (Submitted by Laurelle Wiens and Dan Gillis)

Laurelle Wiens has spent a lot of time dreaming about her wedding, but she never imagined it could include face masks, hand sanitizer, or guests spaced out at a safe physical distance.

That's the reality Wiens, 22, and her fiancé, Dan Gillis, 27, are now facing after the province announced a ban on gatherings of 50 or more people and even tighter guidelines for weddings in order to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Wiens and Gillis had planned to get married in front of some 200 friends and family this summer, but have since scaled those plans back dramatically.

"It's been a bit of a gong show," said Wiens.

As B.C.'s wedding industry works to wrap its head around the COVID-19 restrictions, wedding planners and production companies are helping couples find creative ways to foster the love and connection of a pre-pandemic wedding ceremony, while maintaining people's health and safety, and hoping they'll soon get clear guidance on what will be possible this summer.

Wiens and Gillis say their wedding will likely include a virtual component for those who are unable to attend. (Submitted by Laurelle Wiens and Dan Gillis)

Wiens herself is immunocompromised, putting her at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

She says the last time she and Gillis were closer than two metres apart was roughly two months ago.

"We've seen each other maybe once a week," said Gillis.

"We haven't been in each other's homes, every encounter we have, we have to wait until it's a sunny day so we can go for walks."

The best laid plans

Whereas other couples have opted to elope this year, with plans to host a reception with friends and family in the future, Wiens and Gillis, who works as a pastor at Village Church, say they are still determined to have some sort of ceremony.

"Marriage is kind of a huge thing, it's part of our belief system and our [Christian] faith" she said  "It's a big deal to have friends and family around to witness this commitment."

Filosophi owner Erin Bishop says her clients are confused by the province's vague physical distancing rules. She hopes Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry will offer the industry some clarity. (CBC)

Best case scenario, the couple hopes they will have 50 people in attendance, including the pastor, photographer, caterers, and their families.

Gathering them is just one challenge; Gillis' family hails from the East Coast, and would need to fly.

As for the reception, the couple says they would likely provide masks to everyone in attendance, and generously space the tables apart.

"We're even thinking, like, will we have a dance?" said Gillis. "Everyone would be so close."

The couple also acknowledges that a lot could change by September, and trying to account for several different scenarios.

"We really need to not only plan one wedding, but a few potential backup weddings as well which has been unique" said Gillis.

Call for clarity

But while the couple is making plans A, B and C, wedding planners say looming uncertainty has inspired most clients to postpone their nuptials — and final payments — for at least a year.

Ashton Pollock, owner of Bespoke Decor, says the company's virtual wedding packages include catered food delivery to invitees living in B.C.'s Lower Mainland. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"We're just not going to see that completion payment this year as planned," said Filosophi owner Erin Bishop, who is helping Wiens and Gillis plan their wedding.

Bishop is hoping for more clarity about what will be safe and allowed by August or September, given the timelines required for wedding planning.

"We're trying to work around what people want and need so the more help we can get specific to our industry the better," she said. 

Right now, guidance on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website says "wedding ceremonies need to consist of no more than five people," including the couple, officiant and two witnesses.

But the possibility that will be reassessed — perhaps allowing for larger groups with physical distancing in place — leaves confusion for couples and industry insiders, she said.

"I just need something to point to because, as vendors, we get into a sticky situation of having to be the bad guy and saying no."

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday there would be no change "in the near future" to the ban on gatherings over 50 people, and physical distancing will be required. 

"If you're somebody who is planning a wedding or an event this summer ... smaller is better, outside is safer than inside." 

She also said buffets would not be allowed, due to the risk of sharing germs, and suggested people explore ways of including loved ones who are vulnerable to disease, virtually.

Wedding of the future?

That virtual approach is already in the works, with production companies like Bespoke Decor trying to find ways to work within the current restrictions.

In April, the company decided to start offering virtual wedding packages following a 95 per cent drop in business.

Bespoke Decor says it can fit 98 people into the screen for a couple's virtual wedding. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Limited to the couple, two witnesses and an officiant, the packages include videographers who shoot the ceremony, broadcasting it live over Zoom to 98 people streaming from all over the world.

It also includes home delivery of catered food to anyone located in the Lower Mainland.

"The really cool thing about it is that at every wedding there are going to be guests travelling in from overseas so this may provide a whole new opportunity," said owner Ashton Pollock.

Virtual wedding test inside Bespoke Decor in Burnaby on Friday, May 1, 2020. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Still, with roughly a dozen inquiries since the service launched and no bookings yet, she is hesitant to say virtual weddings are the wave of the future.

"I think we crave the intimacy, the hugs, the connection we have with people," she said, "but for now we'll do this until we can get back to the real good stuff."

Back in Surrey, Laurelle Wiens is worried about finding a new venue to accommodate her reduced guest list.

"I can't just sit here and not plan, right?" she said.

With files from Belle Puri

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