A couple opted for a winter wedding at Manning Park, the last wedding the park’s resort hosted before they shut their doors due to COVID-19. The MacLeans Co photo

‘Love is not cancelled’: B.C. wedding businesses prep for meagre summer season

Small, intimate ceremonies dominate this summer, with industry looking at a monster year in 2021

Love is not cancelled, as the saying has been going in the B.C. wedding industry, yet those in the business are seeing a vast swathe of empty slots in their calendars this summer.

Normally the wedding industry would already be entering peak season. Yet since the coronavirus pandemic prompted a shutdown across the B.C. economy, the wedding industry and the people who rely on it have been on a whirlwind since day one. Vendors and venues are still trying to figure out how best to get people married during COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings and public health recommendations.

It began with mass cancellations, said Carli Spielman who owns and runs the Hope based flower business Wild Rabbit Flowers. Summer weddings are her bread and butter, with 80 to 90 per cent of her bookings taking place late May through October.

A lot of this early phase was about counselling couples through the panic, stress and uncertainty Spielman said. For those who rebooked, they essentially had to re-plan their weddings, to ensure other vendors and venues were available next year.

Karlene Burch agrees that while she wasn’t trained to be a therapist, in her role as sales and event manager at The Falls Golf Club in Bridal Falls her spring was filled with counselling couples on how and whether to proceed.

As people in the industry were counselling couples, they were also reaching out to each other online as they faced the shock of their industry grinding to a halt.

“The calendar was literally emptying, I was crossing off dates throughout my whole summer. Then that realization that I was losing literally my entire year’s income…I was shocked,” Spielman said. “There was a lot of grief, because it’s not only job loss, it’s our small business, it’s our creative passion…A large part of my identity is Wild Rabbit Flowers.”

‘Screw COVID’: pandemic weddings a go

The refrain ‘love is not cancelled’ began circulating online, Spielman said, and while many have decided to hold off until next year there are those going ahead.

At The Falls, there were 41 weddings booked for 2020. There are now around 20 going ahead, smaller weddings than planned, which means they are looking at a quarter of their expected revenue Burch said.

Manning Park Resort had at least a wedding per weekend booked throughout the summer into September. Marketing manager Robyn Barker said nearly all couples have been choosing to postpone.

Spielman is doing the flowers for six weddings, less than 10 per cent of the number of weddings she usually does in a season.

How weddings are looking this year are still dependent on what stage of B.C.’s restart plan the wedding happens in, and whether the 50 person gathering limit changes anytime soon. Vendors and venues are figuring out how to go ahead, Spielman said, and it’s been a massive learning curve to be ‘knowledgeable, forward thinking and proactive’ with adhering to changing guidelines and keeping staff and guests safe.

Burch said The Falls have planned for weddings to be a maximum of 45 guests, leaving room for 5 staff and vendors. Some traditional elements including ceremonies, photos and possibly a cake cutting will take place. The reception will look more like a fine dining experience, rather than the standard wedding buffet, and the raucous dancing and partying will not be happening as weddings will end at 8 p.m. Better perhaps for the bar bill but very different from your average wedding.

“(There is) some loss of tradition,” Burch said, so she is counselling couples to embrace the new normal and be flexible. “Sometimes you have to break out of the norm, and something becomes really beautiful,” she added.

While some tradition will be lost, COVID-19 times weddings will be nothing short of memorable. Some couples are experimenting with new ways of reaching their loved ones who can’t travel to attend their wedding, for example by streaming their weddings on Facebook or inviting loved ones to join their ceremony via videoconferencing app Zoom.

Some have chosen only to wed this year, that is have their ceremony, and defer the reception for their one-year anniversary next year. Some are calling this their ‘screw COVID party,’ Burch said, which could include wearing their wedding clothing again and celebrating.

Manning is also still having weddings, yet they must be under the 50 people limit, with dinner as a plated service and receptions not as cozy as they would be under normal times. “It would actually be a great time to elope, because we would have way more availability in the summer than we normally would,” Barker said.

Spielman is still growing her wedding flowers in her Hope garden and is open to bookings. She’s been getting some inquiries from couples with plans for small, intimate gatherings or elopement. A trend she thinks will stick around in the industry.

“I think the smaller gatherings and intimate weddings, they’re here for a while,” she said.

For those who have had to slim down their guest lists this year, Spielman said she has seen couples make the most of their wedding budget to make their day special. Everything from videographers, to gorgeous photos, more interesting decor, a lot more flowers and even heli rides are being invested in.

Next year is set to be a monster year for weddings, all three agree.

The Falls could see up to 50 or 60 weddings, Burch said, as both this years COVID cancellations and next year’s planned weddings will all be jostling for space.

Barker said mid-week weddings are being talked about in the industry, and might be something couples should think about for 2021. And at Manning, weddings are big business but they aren’t always summer-focused as couples also head to Manning to have the winter wonderland style wedding in the mountains.

Spielman is also seeing the ‘coveted wedding season Saturdays’ filling up fast, yet couples are being flexible with it. “Folks are choosing like, ‘Well, who cares? Let’s get married on Thursday. What’s the big deal’?” she said. “People still want to get married, they have their love, they want to do it.”

Proving that love, in fact, has not been cancelled.

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Taylor and Adam had their summer wedding in Manning Park. The Manning Park Resort has seen nearly all of its summer 2020 weddings postponed or cancelled. Justine Russo photo

A couple at their ceremony at The Falls Golf Course in Bridal Falls. The golf course has seen about half its 2020 summer weddings cancelled or postponed, indicative of the effect the COVID-19 pandemic is having across the wedding industry. Leanne Sims Photography

The grounds at The Falls Golf Course, reading for wedding guests to arrive. This year, plated service, early closing times and more intimate weddings will replace some traditional wedding customs. Leanne Sims Photography

Carli Spielman runs Wild Rabbit Flowers, an event floral studio specializing in weddings, from her home studio and garden in Hope. Grief and shock were how she described the first few weeks of the pandemic and its effect on the wedding industry. Submitted/Wild Rabbit Flowers photo

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