Fort McMurray couple gets surprise wedding in Edmonton

An engaged couple fled Fort McMurray's wildfire, leaving behind their wedding rings and plans. Strangers across Canada coordinated to surprise them with a wedding on Thursday, after they arrived in Edmonton.

Volunteers pulled together surprise ceremony after Fort McMurray wildfire interrupts wedding plans

Strangers helped coordinate a surprise wedding for Fort McMurray evacuees, Carlos and Carol Moran. (Melissa deJong)

When Carlos and Carol Moran fled Fort McMurray's wildfire, they didn't have time to pack their wedding rings.

The two had planned to marry on May 14, but those plans went up in smoke along with most of their Beacon Hill neighbourhood, which was one of those hit hardest by the wildfire flames.

They drove south, arriving in Edmonton just before Highway 63 out of Fort McMurray shut down.

Once they had cleared the flames, Carlos Moran said there was only one thing he wanted to do.

"Trying to get out of Fort McMurray, and just seeing families torn apart and separated and then reunited, and homes destroyed and just Fort McMurray in chaos, we didn't want to be apart any longer," he said.

"We want to be together so we can plan what we will be doing together, supporting each other, how to be out of this chaos and mess that we are in now," Carol Moran added.
Carol and Carlos Moran left their wedding rings in Fort McMurray in their rush to evacuate Beacon Hill, one of the neighbourhoods hit hardest by the fire. (Melissa deJong)

That's why the couple, who are staying with friends in Sherwood Park, made plans for an informal courthouse wedding followed by lunch at a pizzeria on Thursday. Their hosts, Alex and Melissa deJong, had other ideas.

"That's ridiculous, let's just have them at our house, please just let them come here," Melissa deJong said. "When they said yes, I contacted every person I knew to throw something big and surprise them. 

"They've never asked for anything, they're the most amazing humble people I know."

Call for help reaches hundreds

Alex deJong called in to an Edmonton radio station, asking if anyone knew about available honeymoon suites as the city's hotels filled up with evacuees. His call for help unleashed a torrent of responses online.

"Someone in the radio called in about a couple that was supposed to get married this weekend and now they are still getting married here tonight. Does anyone know who that is? I might enable help," Wanda Rowe wrote on Facebook around 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

Within hours, the message garnered hundreds of comments from strangers offering food, flowers, makeup, hair styling, photography, tuxedos, and wedding dresses. Rowe said she drove around Edmonton all day picking up contributions, including a set of wedding rings, paid for by a woman in Ottawa and subsidized by the jewellery store.
A woman in Ottawa paid for new wedding rings after Carol and Carlos Moran lost their original set to the Fort McMurray wildfire. (Wanda Rowe)
Volunteers pulled together a surprise wedding in less than 10 hours for a Fort McMurray couple who cancelled their wedding after fleeing the wildfire. (Wanda Rowe)

By 5 p.m., Rowe said a team of volunteers had pulled together an intimate backyard wedding ceremony.

"It was super simple, but it was more about the emotion," Rowe said.

Friends and family, most of them evacuees from Fort McMurray, stood waiting for the couple. When Carlos and Carol Moran finally walked through the door, Alex deJong said they didn't immediately react and he worried they had overstepped in planning their wedding. 

"They're the kind of people that are very appreciative, but they feel like they don't deserve it either," he said.

But then deJong said smiles dawned on their faces.
Edmontonians donated jewellery, shoes, make-up and hairstyling services to get Carol Moran ready for her surprise wedding in Sherwood Park on Thursday. (Melissa deJong)

"I don't know how to describe it, but if you looked in their eyes there was genuine happiness . . . They were just smooching, and the way they were looking at each other, you could really tell that there's just a happiness there that only people that really love each other have."

As Carol Moran tried on strangers' gowns, one final surprise arrived. Moran's sister had managed to rescue her original wedding dress from the wildfire before evacuating Fort McMurray.

Carol's new husband said seeing her in that dress erased all thoughts of the fire.

"We've just come from a pretty horrible ordeal, and for this one day and this one afternoon, it's just all gone."
Carol and Carlos Moran married in Edmonton after strangers helped organize a surprise ceremony for the Fort McMurray couple. (Alex deJong)

Honeymoon offer from Barbados

News of the Moran's impromptu wedding didn't just resonate with people in Edmonton, it rippled down the continent into the Caribbean. 

A member of Barbados' Tourism Board read CBC coverage of the ceremony. The board, which is connected to the island's ministry of tourism, then organized a week-long honeymoon for the couple.

Expenses for an ocean-view suite, airfare, and island tours are covered by the offer, which the couple can take advantage of whenever they're ready.

"I think everybody's feeling it," said Candice Best, a representative of the board. "It all came together within an hour." 

Carlos Moran said the thought of a honeymoon abroad is as unexpected as the surprise wedding.

"It's a rollercoaster of emotion," he said. "Up and down, but mostly up."

The couple said they want to stay in Edmonton for a few more weeks to support friends and family who also fled the wildfire. Then, once the situation in Fort McMurray becomes more clear, they look forward to an escape from it all.

"It'll be fantastic to get away for a bit, de-stress and have a little more joy in our lives," Carlos Moran said.

 "We're never going to forget this. This is going to be a story we tell our children's children."


• Get breaking news alerts on this story and others. Download the CBC News app for iOS and Android.