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Memoirs of a pandemic wedding in Powell River

Dealing with the shifting situation didn’t make it easy, but it went off without a hitch
The wildfire smoke hovered over Powell River, the news out of Tla’amin Nation was grim, and despite six months of planning, tearing up plans, and rejigging plans, I sat in our office the week before the wedding wondering if I should go ahead and cancel the whole thing.

Do you remember the early days of the pandemic, when the province went into our first lockdown? Do you remember how quiet the streets were, how we started wearing masks and gloves and disinfecting everything in sight? Do you remember not being sure what the next thing to come our way would be, or what it would require of us?

A year later, there are many things that we’ve gotten used to about the pandemic way of life, but in the beginning, everything was new and everything was change.

Shortly after the province went into lockdown, I received a two-line email from our venue indicating they were cancelling our September wedding. I had to sit with that for a while; one of the reasons we’d chosen that venue was because there was so much included in the package that it made planning very easy.

With that off the table and the pandemic shutting down almost everything event-related, I couldn’t do much besides think for quite a while. But when the province began to reopen in late May, I set about planning a pandemic wedding.

The main consideration is the safety of everyone involved, and it started with the city requiring a safety plan in order to rent the Spirit Stage at the dock for the ceremony. I’m grateful for that, because it put me in the frame of mind to think about how I was going to keep everyone who came safe.

There were so many logistics that went into the plan. First, we had to slash the guest list to a number that we felt might still be acceptable, even if the maximum number of attendees at an event were further reduced in the fall.

Next, Randy and I went to the dock and took measurements, which we sent to my sister along with the guest list divided into cohorts, and she used her amazing AutoCAD skills to design a physically-distanced seating plan. I contacted a local mask maker and asked if she had time to sew 30 masks before September (she did), and brought her special fabric and supplies for them. I put all this into the safety plan, and the city accepted it. The ceremony was a go!

We needed a smaller reception venue, and as luck would have it, John Walls needed an event to soft-open the new Forest Bistro and Lounge on Marine, which was just up the street from the Spirit Stage. We worked together to ensure a physically-distanced-by-cohort seating plan, as well as a five-course menu for the evening.

By July, the celebrant, photographer, rings, dress and alterations, groom’s attire, live stream, and chair and table rentals also fell into place, and then it was just about waiting for the RSVPs and for the day to come.

Ten days out

Ten days before the wedding, wildfire smoke from the United States came north and settled down over Powell River. Ten days before the wedding, COVID-19 officially made its presence felt on this peninsula when several people in Tla’amin came down with the virus.

Because I had spent six months prioritizing the safety of the people coming to share our day with us, I felt paralyzed by indecision. Do I cancel the wedding now that, between the smoke and active COVID cases, I can’t guarantee the safety of anyone’s lungs?

While I was waffling, the first guests started travelling, and that made my decision for me.

My sister said something profound when I told her I had considered cancelling. She said: “You have done everything you can, and now it’s up to us to do our part and make our own decisions.”

And you know what? It was the perfect day.

The day before the wedding, Tla’amin rescinded its shelter-in-place order, indicating the outbreak was starting to get under control. The morning of the wedding, the winds shifted and the smoke quickly moved out, only leaving a little bit of rouge in the cloud cover that made the perfect light for photographs.

The Zoom feed had about 40 people logged in, more than doubling the in-person guests. Everyone was careful about mask wearing and hand sanitizing, and sitting in their assigned places.

The rain held off until the photographs were finished. The staff at Forest made it easy to follow their protocols and served us an absolutely amazing meal (we gave them a standing ovation at the end). And at the end of the day, we collapsed into bed, exhausted, elated and married.

Rolling with the punches

I am glad I have not been imagining my perfect wedding day since I was a child. If I had, chances are I wouldn’t have been able to just roll with the punches that COVID-19 threw our way as we walked down the road toward our wedding. But because I had no preconceptions, because the most important thing to both of us was the “getting married” part, and because everyone who attended – either in person or virtually – worked with us to make the wedding a success, it really did end up being the most wonderful, beautiful, perfect wedding day.

It was a day full of joy in a time full of uncertainty, a time of celebration when there seemed so little to celebrate, and an opportunity for togetherness to sustain us when we aren’t able to be together.

So take that, COVID-19! We got married in spite of you, and I wouldn’t change a thing.