Cost of Living

Marriage licences and registrations plummet across Canada during COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus could be impacting the wedding industry, as the number of marriage licences and registrations from the first three weeks of April 2020 appears to be down more than 50 per cent, compared to the same month last year. 

Some couples are still willing to take the plunge, opting for ‘micro-weddings’ 

Guests follow physical distancing rules at this tiny wedding in the Eastern Fraser Valley region of BC. (Credit: Esther Moerman Photography)

Across various parts of the country, couples are putting their wedding plans on hold as restrictions due to COVID-19 continue. In several provinces, the number of marriage licences issued or registered in the first three weeks of April appears to be down at least more than 50 per cent from the same month last year. 

Early data still paints a stark picture of fewer Canadians willing to say "I do" during the pandemic, though it is limited to just four provinces and does not capture all of April 2020.

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British Columbia — the third most populous province in the country — saw the number of marriage registrations drop by nearly 70 per cent in less than a month.

The number of marriage licences issued in BC, typically obtained ahead of a marriage registration, has also dropped by 56 per cent from March to April of this year however that number does not include cancelled licences. 

Similar trends are apparent in early data released by the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. Ontario does not tally marriage numbers until the end of the year, when the Registrar General publishes a vital statistics report. 

In Saskatchewan, the number of registered marriages saw a dramatic drop as early as March, when it fell around 60 per cent from February.

Although April registrations in Saskatchewan won't be available till mid-May, the number of marriage licences tracked by the province's Ministry of Justice has already fallen by 54 per cent from March to April of this year.

Nova Scotia, on the other hand, keeps track of the number of "marriages performed" in addition to licences and registrations. The "marriage performed" statistic has seen significant drops in both March and April.

Micro-weddings growing in popularity

None of this comes as a surprise for Shyla Slade, who has been organizing weddings for more than 20 years. Slade ownes Valley Weddings and Events in Chilliwack, B.C., and estimates around 75 per cent of her clients are opting to postpone their ceremonies.

Wedding organizer Shyla Slade says she and her vendors are all trying to adapt their services to the constraints of a pandemic. (Credit: Justine Russo)

What surprised Slade was a sudden surge of interest in eloping, which some are now defining as a deliberately small wedding ceremony.

"Especially in the last day I've had over six requests for elopements and so we're just trying to figure out how we can accommodate an elopement," said Slade. 

It turns out small, intimate nuptials were already a growing trend before COVID-19 shut down the possibility of large crowds. The so-called "micro-wedding" with fewer than 20 guests was already gaining popularity among couples who wanted to spend their money and time differently, according to Slade.

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"I think some people are just seeing that a wedding is more about the two people celebrating each other, not necessarily the event as a whole," she said.

Ongoing concerns over health and safety means people like Slade will have to pivot their business.

"They'll have to have the seats all distanced apart properly," she said about one of her latest clients.

"So we did discuss maybe having tables set in households with separations between the tables. But this is all new so we're just taking it one day at a time!"

While many Canadian couples are postponing their 2020 wedding plans, others are saying "I do!" in new and physically distanced ways. But despite a dive in marriage licences, the coronavirus business model for nuptials means live-streamed receptions or even micro-weddings. 4:14

Catch the radio version of this story on the Friday, May 1 edition of CBC Radio's The Cost of Living or listen to the audio above.

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