People & Places

Magical, raw, different: Inside a pandemic wedding

My daughter Lucy got engaged to her boyfriend Simon this past November. They didn’t want a long engagement, so they picked a date in May. He’s the youngest of six, all his siblings have spouses and children, so we planned on a big wedding of around 120 people. They wanted it at the church they attend, so we planned to do it at St. Patrick’s Basilica on Kent and have dinner and dancing at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club — a pretty traditional wedding. 

Then COVID-19 hit in March. We took a ‘wait and see’ approach. We had just sent out some invitations, and some people responded with enthusiasm, but many were also saying ‘we’ll have to wait and see’. By the beginning of April we knew we were not going to able to have the wedding we wanted. 

Lucy and Simon really wanted to go ahead and get married in May. They could have a reception at another time, but they would be married in May — with only five people at the service.  This was a tough situation. Right away Simon’s family said they would step back and let us attend, but we’re a family of five, and it was ‘our’ first wedding, the first of our children to be married. Her sisters, Hannah and Sophie, really wanted to be there. We had held out hope that the province would allow for slightly larger gatherings of seven or 10, but in the end that didn’t happen.

They wanted it in May because they had a marriage licence that was to run out May 25. The big thing for me was: if something happened with COVID-19, and we had to postpone, they would not have a valid marriage licence. And the province had closed most of the offices; it was crazy trying to get any information about that, and it did not seem like they were going to extend them the way they did with driver’s licences. 

Bride Lucy relaxes with sisters Sophie and Hannah (and dog Teddy) at home before the service.
Refreshments laid out at the Wallace home. Photos by John Espadero Photography


In the end it all came together. We did our own hair and makeup, helping each other out in the days leading up to the wedding on May 23. The church was really good; St. Patrick’s has been open for 144 years — this was the first time it has shut its doors. And even for the wedding they were only allowed to have one door open. That meant Lucy couldn’t go through the front door. She had to go in the side door, walk up the side to the back of the church near the front where a bride would normally enter. They kept Simon in the back room for that part. 

A still from the livestream at St. Patrick’s Basilica

We decided to livestream, which worked out really well. I just used a smartphone; I had to film her walking down the aisle as I walked backwards! There was no music — we weren’t able to hire anyone and there’s no wifi in the church. We were trying to figure out a way to include music, but finally Lucy said ‘I think this is getting too complicated, let’s leave it.’ She had chosen Pachelbel’s Canon, so when she invited people to the livestream she asked them to play that while they watched.

And when Lucy walked down the aisle with her father, she didn’t seem to mind at all. She had this great big smile on her face and that was all I needed to see.

The newly married couple exit from the side door at St. Patrick’s Basilica. Photo by Allan Beaudette

In the end, there was something great and very special about the whole experience. Either way, Peter’s mom could not come to the service — she’s in her 80s and has had a few health issues — so with the livestream she was able to participate. The people at her retirement home set her up with an iPad to watch it and she’s still talking about how it was the most beautiful wedding ever. People from all over the world were a part of it: a nephew in New York, a niece in Ireland, a good friend in Germany. Because no one could be there, you could send it out to whoever. In a way it was sort of better, because more people were able to enjoy it, and whoever wanted to be ‘there’ was there. 

Friends geared up in masks and gloves to decorate a car for the just-married couple. Photos by John Espadero Photography

During the service, about 50 family and friends waited outside, watching on their phones. Then we walked out — navigating yellow caution tape, and livestreaming the whole thing. When the priest left the building he rang the bells and the sound just rang out. It was magical. Our friends, and Lucy’s sisters were all clapping when we exited the church. They still maintained the social distance, and they had decorated cars and brought a real festive spirit.

Left: Lucy is led to her car by her father, followed by sisters Lucy and Hannah (photo by John Espadero Photography. Right: mother-of-the-bride Julia Wallace, with daughters Sophie, Lucy, and Hannah, and husband Peter in front of St. Patrick’s Basilica after the ceremony (supplied).

 

Friends decorated their getaway car during the ceremony. Lucy and Simon are all smiles as they head to the next stage of wedding day. Photos supplied

The atmosphere continued as we headed down Bronson. People were honking their horns, creating a parade-like atmosphere. The skateboarders at McNabb got off their boards and started banging them on the ground. People were just so excited. It was a beautiful spring day, and we felt like we were being celebrated but also bringing a bit of joy through the city.

When we arrived back home we saw that our neighbours, as well as more friends and family, were waiting outside on their driveways, and we were greeted with more outbursts, decorated cars — one with a sunroof drove by with balloons streaming out the top.

One thing that was really different was just doing everything yourself. It really reminded me of the axiom ‘many hands make light work.’ The reality is we were having a wedding at our house; whether it’s 5 or 500, you want to make it special. 

The dinner took place in the backyard, where whimsical, elegant decorations were laid for a cozy wedding party. Photos supplied

The dinner was beautiful — there were seven of us, and we ate in the backyard. Simon is a competitive axe-thrower, so he showed off his skills by cutting the cake with special axes. He even rigged up this special demonstration in which he threw an axe to cut Golden Palace egg rolls in half! It was not at all how we planned it, but it was an amazing day. 

Simon, a competitive axe thrower, brought prized axes for a special slicing ceremony. Photos supplied.

One thing that was difficult was not reciprocating. All those people on the street, or out front of the church, they brought so much; you want to reciprocate by giving them a hug or a drink or a piece of cake… and you couldn’t do any of that. So it’s hard because you’re so grateful.

Lucy said  it was wonderful, and a lot of people said it was ‘magical’. I think it’s because it was so raw. When I think of the day I imagine Lucy walking down the long aisle, without music or crowds of familiar faces, but still moving forward with happiness at this joyous moment.