Manitoba wedding industry, couples anxious but hopeful for 2020 wedding season

By | April 29, 2020

It’s a day most couples spend months or even years planning for, but those with wedding dates this summer are being forced to make new plans amid a constantly changing forecast.

“That led to lots of disappointment, a little bit of frustration, and then also followed by that feeling of selfishness and guilt that there are so many worse things happening right now to a lot of people,” said Rachel Sawatzky, who was set to be married in the Lake of the Woods area on July 31.

Limits on public gatherings have been in place since March, gradually going down from a maximum of 50 people to 10 in the weeks after Manitoba’s first case of COVID-19 was detected.

It’s left many wondering when things might return to normal, and what the new normal might look like.

With venues booked and deposits paid, many couples are trying to weigh the pros and cons of postponing their special days, or scaling back. Way back.

Bride-to-be Rachel Sawatzky is coming to terms that her dream wedding on Lake of The Woods in July may not look how she and her fiance envisioned. (The Letter Elle Photography)

Wedding planner Amanda Douglas had 28 weddings booked for this summer. She says most have decided to push their dates into next year, not wanting to cut back from the 100-200 guests they had planned for.

“It’s really hard to either skim down that list or even think about not having their people there,” said Douglas.

“They want to be able to celebrate with their family and friends.”

Douglas said the last few couples still hoping to be wed in 2020 have dates toward the end of the year and know that their vision may have to change.

“Caps on the amount of guests you can have at a gathering is really going to affect everybody. It’s affecting our industry severely, and unfortunately it’s causing a lot of couples to not be able to have the weddings that they want,” Douglas said.

‘A lot of anxiety’

Sawatzky was initially planning for about 130 guests, but even if she trimmed the guest list there are other factors that will need to be considered.

“Even if it was 50 or 100, the event would still have to look different, we’d still have to be thinking of how we would serve food, and how we would host guests,” Sawatzky said.

“Being that it would be in Kenora, a lot of the campgrounds and places that people had planned to stay either look different or are closed.”

Sawatzky, 26, said it was just in the past two weeks that she and her fiance had to come to terms with the fact their special day won’t be what they initially planned.

Rachel Sawatzky and her fiance had their hearts set on getting married on the dock at the family’s home on Lake of The Woods this summer. (Submitted by Rachel Sawatzky)

The denial became grief, and that has now turned into acceptance. She’s still hoping that at the very least they can have a small legal ceremony with close family on their original wedding date, and plan a party next summer. 

But her plans also hinge on family being able to come from out west, and the group being able to go to the family home on Lake of the Woods.

“That is dependent on what Kenora is asking of Manitoba residents at that time. We’re trying to be really careful of respecting that they’re a small community,” she said.

Sawatzky says having to plan two events instead of one also adds extra costs.

“It definitely led to a lot of anxiety and some feelings of it would be a lot easier to know that we could postpone, granted we don’t know what the future looks like, we don’t know what next summer looks like.”

‘Heartbreaking’ for wedding vendors

Pushing to next summer comes with a different set of challenges. With other wedding planners and vendors in the same boat, it could make for a barren season this year, and a busy one next summer.

“It’s heartbreaking frankly, it’s really heartbreaking to see my fellow vendors go through this and to be in it myself, because I essentially don’t have anything until August,” said Douglas, who has been planning weddings for eight years.

“It’s a very, very different-looking summer.

“So much of it is deferred to next year now, so it makes a very different wedding season for us.”

Amanda Douglas had 28 weddings planned for this summer, most of which have been rescheduled for next year. (Victoria Anne Photography)

Without knowing when events will return to normal and with more and more couples pushing back their events, it could mean going even longer without income for some wedding vendors.

“It’s very tricky, it’s hard to balance it all and it’s hard to close for that long without either new bookings or cash flow, and it’s hard to know exactly how long of an impact this will have on everybody,” said Douglas.

“We’re not the only industry that’s going through it, but to have our whole income deferred a year, and then to leave us without dates to be able to book new events and new weddings, this is something that’s probably going to have an impact for the next two to three years.” 

“So it is a bit of a scary thought for us.”

Douglas said without a specific directive from the province about when gatherings might resume or what kinds of limits will be in place, wedding planners are in a holding pattern.

“Numbers would be so helpful right now,” she said.

“We can’t plan until we have some sort of government-regulated directive. We can’t really make too many decisions until we really know what the safe thing is to do.”

‘Next year is going to be crazy’

For many vendors, weddings are all they do. Corey and Amanda Jonasson run Cojo Wedding Photography. They had more than 30 dates booked this year, and now many of them are being pushed back or scaled down.

“Financially it’s going to be an interesting year or two until we are bounced back. I mean, there’s not a lot we can do about it — we’re kind of just going with the flow,” said Amanda Jonasson.

“Doing what we can to stay positive in the meantime.”

Corey and Amanda Jonasson of Cojo Photography are trying to offer their wedding clients alternative packages for smaller-scale events. (Submitted by Corey and Amanda Jonasson)

The company is offering different packages for elopements or scaled-back weddings and trying to be as flexible as they can with clients.

“The ones [with wedding dates] that are later on in the year are the ones still holding tight,” said Amanda.

“Some of them are still holding on to their date for this year and still planning a date for next year,” said Corey.

“Next year is going to be crazy.”

The couple is eagerly awaiting news of a timeline to start lifting some of the restrictions, in hopes they can help their clients plan and ease their fears.

“Nobody knows, everybody is on edge,” said Amanda.

The photographers knew they’d have to see the number of active COVID-19 cases come down before they could even begin to start envisioning a return to making plans.

“Now that I feel like we are at that point, now we are just anxious, we want to hear some positive news and get back to work,” she said.

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