Couples, wedding industry alter altar plans as COVID-19 restrictions shift

Over the last 16 months, soon-to-be married couples across Ontario have had to alter plans in line with public health restrictions. Here's how some of them are doing it.

Step 3 reopening in Ontario means greater capacity limits for ceremonies, receptions

Last week, the capacity limits for indoor weddings increased dramatically when Ontario entered Step 3 of its COVID-19 reopening plan. ( Alexander_DG/Shutterstock )

Planning a wedding can be an arduous task — but planning a wedding during COVID-19 takes the meaning of arduous to a new level. 

Over the past 16 months, soon-to-be married couples across Ontario have had to alter plans based on changing pandemic restrictions and rules.

Wedding dates, guest lists, venue bookings and floor plans have all been affected. 

Ashley Cyrenne and fiancé Adam Lemire have changed their guest list five times, cutting it from 130 guests to 25 due to capacity limits. She has recently increased her list to 50 guests.

Engaged for over 3½ years, they plan to marry Aug. 7 at Cooper's Hawk, a winery in Harrow in southwestern Ontario, and rented a tent that will be erected outdoors.

Ashley Cyrenne and her fiance Adam Lemire will be married on August 7, 2021 —the same date as her grandparents 50th wedding anniversary. (Peter Duck/CBC)

"We really want to be able to dance," Cyrenne said. "This way, we'll be able to have a couple more people, like for example, in the list of 50 that we had, we hadn't included our ring bearers and flower girls. We were kind of gonna have them leave after the ceremony, but this way, we can have more people stay for the dinner and dancing, which I was really looking forward to dancing with the little ones." 

Cyrenne and Lemire are marrying the same day her grandparents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.  

Capacity limits expanded

In June 2020, under Ontario pandemic rules, no more than 10 people could be at a wedding reception. Then, Stage 2 allowed for indoor weddings of up to 25 per cent capacity. Last week, the capacity limits for indoor weddings increased dramatically when the province entered Step 3 of its Roadmap to Reopen plan.

There's no cap on capacity for indoor religious ceremonies, including weddings, as long as two metres of social distancing can be maintained. 

Receptions have a capacity of 25 indoors or 100 outside, unless they're held at an event space, restaurant, or other food or drink establishment. In that case, the venue's capacity can be up to 50 per cent, provided social distancing can be maintained, or 75 per cent outdoors (or 5,000 people, whichever is a lower number).

But the capacity expansion that came with Step 3 was too late for Kathleen Virban and Brendan Falkner, who will be married in Windsor this Friday.

While they can't add guests to their reception at this stage, Virban's parents and her fiancé's parents will each host backyard gatherings before that, with up to 100 people.

Kathleen Virban and her fiancé pushed back their wedding when the stay-at-home order was implemented this spring. (Peter Duck/CBC)

Virban said it means a lot to know more people can be part of their special day.

"Right now, it's a feeling of overwhelming joy and happiness for both my fiancé and I," she said, adding that both have large families.

The wedding was originally scheduled for June — with 500 guests — but they cancelled in April when the stay-at-home order was implemented.

Couples aren't the only ones who've had to grapple with the curve balls thrown by the pandemic and the ever-changing restrictions.

Nicole Vallance, a Windsor wedding photographer who usually has her year booked in advance, said the recent announcement prompted a wave of last-minute adjustments.

"Everyone had such a hard time trying to narrow down guests lists, and I mean, that's hard in a normal wedding scenario, right? And then when you have these restrictions on top of it, it makes it even more difficult, so having those numbers expanded, I got quite a few emails from couples saying, 'You know, I know we told you we were doing this. Now, it's this. We're adding. It's going to be 100 people.'"

Vallance said more than half the couples who had weddings planned last year ended up postponing.

Bed and breakfast pivots to wedding venue

But weddings were a boon to a business in Colchester. Magnolia Ranch, a bed and breakfast, unexpectedly became a venue for those ceremonies last fall. 

"We got thrown into last year in September when one of the announcements was you could not hold outdoor weddings in a private yard. We were called, saying, 'Can we have a wedding at your place next weekend?'" said Gloria Cavanego, co-owner of Magnolia Ranch. 

We just had to learn how to be flexible, and pivot often and be empathetic to our brides and grooms. We were losing financially, but they were losing the most important day of their life. ​​​​​- Gloria Cavanego, co-owner, Magnolia Ranch

Cavanego did not intend to run the ranch for wedding ceremonies when she purchased it, but since she began running outdoor weddings, it's been a lucrative business. 

Last fall, wedding ceremonies could host 25 people at a wedding if held in your own backyard, but a staffed event at a licensed facility could hold 100 people outdoors and 50 indoors. 

"I've been doing fundraising for 25 years, so I'm used to outdoor events," said Cavanego. "The couples have been amazing to work with, and just seeing them on their most special day and they're entrusting it with us, there's a lot of pressure to make sure that they have a stress-free gorgeous day, but it's been wonderful." 

In 2020, the ranch was booked up from September to November, but the restriction changes this year caused numerous cancellations for wedding bookings. 

"We just had to learn how to be flexible, and pivot often and be empathetic to our brides and grooms," said Cavanego. "We were losing financially, but they were losing the most important day of their life." 

With files by Peter Duck