'Apocalypse wedding': Couple's nuptials interrupted by flooding, bears and a sinkhole

It was a wedding to remember — for all the wrong reasons. Instead of dinner and bubbly, an Alberta bride and groom were served with raging floodwaters, a gaping sinkhole and hungry bears.

Rising floodwaters sink Edmonton couple's plans for a campground wedding

Jesse Cummings, right, and Ashley Swyck were set to be married at Marten Beach campground when floodwaters moved in. (Jesse Cummings/Facebook)

It was a wedding to remember — for all the wrong reasons. 

Instead of dinner and bubbly, the bride and groom were served with raging floodwaters, a gaping sinkhole and hungry bears.

Guests have dubbed the adventure "apocalypse wedding."

"It's something we can tell the grandkids one day. That's for sure," said groom Jesse Cummings. 

When Cummings and his fiancée Ashley Swyck decided to tie the knot after 20 years together, they imagined a casual, woodsy affair at a favourite summer escape from their home in Edmonton — Marten Beach campground. It's on the northeast shore of Lesser Slave Lake, about 300 kilometres from the city.

They set a date — Saturday, July 27. Then, three days before the ceremony was to take place, the lake levels began to rise. 

'Things were going sideways' 

The ensuing flood put more than a damper on things. For days, more than 200 campers were stranded at Marten Beach.

The couple would spend their long-awaited wedding weekend in a disaster zone. 

"We knew things were going sideways as soon as we got there," Cummings said in an interview Friday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"There was literally a raging river in the ditch and that's not normal ... but we didn't realize the extent of just how bad it was going to be." 

The couple have been camping at Marten Beach every summer for more than 20 years. (Jesse Cummings/Facebook)

A convoy of cars and vehicles accounting for about half the guest list had made it into the campground by Thursday afternoon, Cummings said. 

Shortly after those guests arrived, heavy rainfall had washed out sections of Highway 88 and cut off road access.

Cummings and Swyck were stranded inside the campground, but many of the wedding guests, including the bride's mother and father and the groom's daughter, were still on the other side of the washout. 

We were the north sinkhole and south sinkhole teams.- Jesse Cummings

"We ended up with about 35 people in the campground with us and about 15 people outside the camp, stuck on the other side of the sinkhole," Cummings said. 

"We were the north sinkhole and south sinkhole teams." 

Emergency workers, including firefighters from the Municipal District of Lesser Slave River took pity on the wedding party and helped shuttle guests through the treacherous conditions into the campground. 

"They took them on fire trucks up to the sinkhole and then the Alberta Conservation officers ferried them into the campground so they could at least be with us," Cummings said. 

"They told us that they would do the same for the officiant but if it became untenable and the sinkhole became more dangerous, they would charter a helicopter. These guys went above and beyond. They did their best not to ruin our big plans." 

The Marten Beach community in the M.D. of Lesser Slave River is under water after heavy rain in the area. (M.D. of Lesser Slave River)

Uninvited guests

In the end, about half the guests weren't able to attend, either halted by the ravaged roads or warned off before ever hitting the road. There were, however, a few party crashers of the ursine variety.

As the battering rain continued, flooding nearby homes and prompting an evacuation order for Marten Beach, bears from the surrounding bush were pushed into the campground. 

The campers had been warned to be extra diligent and had safely stowed their food and liquor. Undeterred, the bears sniffed out another possibility: the bride's makeup case containing her cosmetics.

"We had a huge black bear come right into our site at about 5 o'clock in the morning and started knocking around," Cummings said. 

"We actually thought it was a friend of ours digging around for some coffee to make but when I yelled out to him and didn't get a response, I thought, 'Uh oh, that might not be my buddy.' 

"I don't think I've ever seen a bear that big before." 

We should be able to make this one go off without any acts of God.- Jesse Cummings

By Saturday, a temporary bridge over one of the highway washouts allowed a few hundred other campers who had also been trapped since Thursday to leave.

The couple hosted a reception party on Saturday night but the ceremony has been postponed. 

They packed up camp Sunday and left the area. Cummings and his would-be bride are now enjoying a much-deserved honeymoon in British Columbia and making plans for a proper ceremony. 

"When we set this one up, we'll try to make sure there are multiple means of access and egress," he said. 

"We should be able to make this one go off without any acts of God."

Crews had to remove logs and debris from the bridge before campers could get out of the flooded campground at Marten Beach. (M.D. of Lesser Slave River)

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon


Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca


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