Cross-border wedding day brings families in U.S. and Canada together over barbed wire fence
Families had to hug through fence at wedding ceremony they’ll never forget
It's not the wedding Karianne Jensen had in mind for her daughter's big day but, for better or worse, it's one she says she'll never forget.
Newlyweds Jaxon and Kadee Jensen and their families gathered under a perfect blue prairie sky, knee-high in grass with Jaxon's family on the Alberta side of the border.
Just metres away across a barbed wire farm fence in Montana, on the U.S. side, Kadee's parents and her American-based family stood while border guards watched from a distance.
Kadee's father walked her down the fenceline instead of the aisle, with the pair holding hands from different countries.
"It ended up being extremely beautiful," said the bride's mother. "Two families getting together and marrying two kids that love each other."
The wedding was planned in March and supposed to happen in June, but then along came COVID-19 and the border closure.
Karianne Jensen and her husband live in Kalispell, Mont., and thought they weren't going to be able to make it to their daughter's special day. So the families hatched a plan in just 10 days to do something truly special.
"We were just joking about it at first, then we are like, 'what if we actually did it?'" said Kadee Jensen, who is a floral designer and wedding planner by trade. This was her first, and likely last, cross-border wedding.
The family contacted border officials in the United States and Canada and connected with landowners with bordering farms in Montana and Alberta to get permission to access their land, bringing everyone together on the open prairie, divided by just a fence and a padlocked farm gate.
"They gave us permission to hug and shake hands across the border, which was the best part. That allowed me to walk down the aisle with my dad and hug my family," said Kadee.
"They said, 'if you'd like you can hug your family and your daughter across the fence,' and I started to cry," said mom Karianne.
Jensen's son-in-law and his family made the short journey to the border down a bumpy backroad from Cardston, Alta.
Jensen travelled four hours from Kalispell, catching a flat tire on the way and getting a helping hand from some passing farmers.
"You do what you do for your daughters because you love them, and I'm just grateful I got what I got," she said.
In the end, there were eight family members, including the bride's parents, gathered on the U.S. side and around 45 guests, including the groom's side of the family, gathered on the Alberta side, not far from the Del Bonita border crossing.
Karianne Jensen's brother married the couple.
"It was very bittersweet," said Jensen. "It was near and dear to the heart."
Jensen says it's the bride's mother who is usually heavily involved in a wedding but in this case it was the groom's parents who had to step into that role.
"They did amazing. They helped her get what she needed. We had decorations and flowers and they even weed-whipped out there so there was a place for them to stand with some rugs," Jensen said.
"We made it the best we could under these circumstances and it was a beautiful ceremony," she said.
Jensen got to share the day with her brothers and sisters and her parents, whom she had not seen since the COVID pandemic started.
The hardest part for Kadee Jensen was walking away from her family on the other side of the fence.
"It was really hard initially to see them. I was definitely very emotional. It was a very happy day and super exciting but the walking away was the hardest part," said Kadee, who held a small reception with the Canadian side of the family in Cardston after the wedding ceremony.
"I just want to thank the border services people that made it possible. They could have easily said no," Kadee said.
Karianne Jensen says they'll all be telling the story and recounting the memories for years to come.
She's now counting down the days when she can hug her daughter without a fence between them.