Wedding dreams, a pandemic and a regrettable 'error': How a Sask. government email misled on wedding sizes

An optimistic bride in Saskatchewan who was holding out hope that the 30-person limit on wedding receptions will lift this summer was misled by a government email incorrectly stating receptions would rise to 150 in July.

Hundreds saw email saying receptions were rising to 150, Ministry of Health says it 'was not correct'

As a child, Carly Klaassen wore a flower girl's dress to play a game called "here comes the bride" where she and her neighbour used to walk down a fake aisle. Now that she has a wedding dress of her own she's passed on her childhood dress to her cousins, who won't be able to come to her wedding due to restrictions. (Submitted by Carly Klaassen)

Carly Klaassen started tucking magazine cutouts of wedding dresses into a shoebox under her bed when she was 10 years old.

By 24, she had a clear vision of herself walking down the aisle — the classic church ceremony, the pews full of people.

The pandemic threatened to crush her wedding dreams until July, when a government email gave her a glimmer of hope.

It said that, starting on July 16, wedding receptions could have a maximum of 150 people.

"I guess we're all so desperate for, like, hopeful and exciting things. So when I saw it, I just ran with it. I was like, 'We can have everybody we want, that's great,' clung to it and shared it with people," Klaassen said.

Those hopes were dashed again when the provincial government confirmed the email was a regrettable "error."

"This information was not correct," the Ministry of Health wrote in an email to CBC.

The Ministry of Health clarified that, despite its earlier statements, the limit at receptions was 30 people. Ceremonies with as many as 150 people are allowed, but only if groups are able to space out in clusters of 30 people with five metres between groups.

Wedding whiplash

Klaassen's partner Nathan Oster proposed to her at a park in Saskatoon in February. They quickly made arrangements for the church wedding and 130-person dinner and dance of her dreams, to take place on Aug. 22, 2020.

Then the pandemic hit.

They decided to forge ahead, but doing so has meant replanning their wedding multiple times.

By now, the couple has come up with three alternative guest lists for 50, 30 and 15 people, and changed venues multiple times.

The glimmer of hope came when Klaassen saw a screenshot of the incorrect government email posted on one of the many Facebook pages for people planning weddings in Saskatoon.

In addition to saying, incorrectly, that receptions were rising to 150, the email had details on the conditions that needed to be followed.

The now-retracted email said receptions must have plated food service with a maximum of six people per table, warned that alcohol could make people act in a way that increases risk of transmission and said music is allowed "at a moderate volume to prevent shouting," because shouting spreads droplets more than regular talking.

Klaassen wasn't the only one who quickly acted on this misinformation. The email went out on Thursday, July 9. By that weekend wedding planners all over the province were contacting brides and grooms telling them that larger receptions would be a go.

Shawna Nelson was one person making such calls. She is the director of sales and marketing at the Sheraton in Saskatoon.

After the flurry of weekend phone calls, she received correspondence from the government's business response team saying that the information she had was incorrect.

Confusion reigned supreme in the same Facebook pages where the information first spread. Nelson said she was getting mixed messages depending on whether she talked to the response team over the phone or via email.

Shawna Nelson said she felt confident that the reception size increases were going to happen, based on the paper trail she got, but they ended up disappointing couples when it turned out not be true. (Submitted by Shawna Nelson)

July 16 — the day the incorrect email had mentioned — came and went with no announcement about weddings. Instead, it brought a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in the province, with 42 new known cases in one day. Case numbers stayed high for weeks following.

The Ministry of Health says the response team reached out to everyone who received incorrect information to clarify.

"We regret the error and any inconvenience this may have caused. We have also included clarification of the rules in news releases, during regular media availabilities, in all correspondence going forward, and through questions on social media," the Ministry of Health wrote in an email to CBC.

A similar error played out with hockey teams that went to an out-of-province hockey tournament earlier this summer. The Saskatchewan government said teams should not have competed in the out-of-province tournament, but also concedes that its business response team issued some inaccurate information in an email.

There is still potential for people to mistakenly have wedding receptions that go beyond what is allowed in the provincial rules right now, Nelson said. She said she is aware of several couples and planners who still believe that receptions jumped to 150 people on July 16.

She said she wants the province to make a public statement to clear things up.

After CBC did a radio report on Klaassen and Nelson, the Government of Saskatchewan put up a post on its Facebook page.

'I get knocked down, but I get up again'

For Klaassen, it's not those childhood dreams that have been hard to let go of, it's that cousins, her grandma and other loved ones won't be there.

"That's the biggest thing. Not so much like the big fancy celebration or the dance or anything," she said.

Carly Klaassen and her fiance Nathan Oster aren't letting the pandemic keep them from getting married and having their new puppy as their 'flower girl.' (Submitted by Carly Klaassen, photos by Tessa Jayne Photography.)

Klaassen allowed herself time to grieve the wedding that won't be, and then picked herself back up. She said the line "I get knocked down, but I get up again" from the Chumbawamba song Tubthumping has become her wedding planning theme song.

"I really am just so excited to be married to Nathan and start our lives together and we just got a puppy as well. So I'm excited that we can move in together and have our puppy and it'll be great," she said.


Chelsea Laskowski is a web writer with CBC Saskatoon.