Soon to be wed couples, wedding venues hit hard by metro Winnipeg pandemic restrictions

Winnipeg and surrounding areas are under tighter pandemic restrictions as of Monday, causing stress for couples and extra strain on Manitoba’s struggling wedding industry.

After a year of planning her dream wedding, and with some of her guests already in town self-isolating, the news was a rude awakening for Katlyn Bailey.

The bride-to-be is supposed to get married on Friday, and was originally planning on tying the knot in East Selkirk, Man. Because she lives in the Interlake and was planning on getting married there, she felt assured any pandemic restrictions in Winnipeg wouldn’t affect her.

All that changed on Friday when Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer announced the City of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region is moving to the orange, or “restricted,” level on the province’s pandemic response system, introducing mandatory mask rules for indoor public places and new gathering size limits.

“It’s incredibly stressful, and weddings are stressful enough, let alone planning in times of a pandemic and then let alone getting news seven days before your wedding that OK, you can actually have it and you need to change everything,” she said.

Katlyn Bailey and her fiance had to pivot at the last minute and change their wedding plans in light of group size restrictions in the metro Winnipeg area. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Bailey pivoted, and now plans to get married to her fiance in a tent at a family member’s property in Lac du Bonnet, Man. on the same day. Her guest list is much smaller, now, and the whole wedding replanned from scratch in just a few days.

“I would’ve paid anything for someone to take on this stress and not have to deal with this,” she said.

In addition to couples, wedding venues have been hit hard by Manitoba’s latest restrictions.

One more hit to affected wedding venues

Hawthorn Estates northeast of Winnipeg usually has 80 weddings a year, but this year they’ve only had 13 since March. This weekend there were three, but the owners don’t expect many more because of the new group size restrictions.

“Especially with this last announcement, it’s kind of was that we felt like you’re throwing your hands up and the door’s done after today’s wedding. It’s hard,” said Tammy Belanger, who co-owns the venue with her husband Robert.

“It’s not only emotional for us — we just rebuilt the venue — but it’s emotional for our couples, and trying to work with them and trying to accommodate them the best we can,” Robert Belanger added.

“I can’t imagine planning a wedding two to three years in advance only to have to change it two or three times with different restrictions.”

The changes coming to part of Manitoba on Monday affect a geographically small region that comprises most of the province’s population. (CBC)

At Louise and Kyle Anderson’s Hitch N’ Post Ranch northwest of Winnipeg, COVID-19 has reduced their 50 yearly events to just one.

“We just want people to come and realize we have 10,000 square feet but we’re only allowed 10 people,” Kyle said.

“That’s a scary feeling that after 36 years, my parents’ dream may be forced to close without anything.”

Louise has been writing letters to government officials, Manitoba Health and their MLA, in hopes of getting their industry— which is lucrative to government in terms of liquor sales and PST— to the consulting table. She wants venues to still be allowed to host smaller numbers of people than before, but safely, as they are equipped to do.

“It is really difficult for the couples having to go and all of a sudden plan their wedding. Now they’re getting tents … all these safety protocols are now in their hands. And they don’t have anyone to oversee the event. It’s an added stress on them. Nobody thinks in terms of liability and public safety like a venue owner.”

Kyle says he understands the safety concerns inherent in large group gatherings, but questions why restaurants, bars and casinos can stay open without the same severity of restrictions.

Tammy Belanger agrees. She says she’s had to have difficult conversations with brides, including one just recently.

“She was absolutely in tears, and she’s like, ‘Are you saying that I can’t even have more than 10 people for my ceremony on your grounds? Seven acres?’ And I’m like, ‘No, we can’t.’ But I said, ‘You could go to the casino and you could have your guests stand by VLTs,” referring to a casino just across the street that’s allowed to have a greater number of patrons inside.

The news isn’t bad just outside of the affected communities.

Robert and Tammy Belanger, the owners of Hawthorn Estates, are expecting a lot more days with empty pews after the province restricted group sizes in the metro Winnipeg area to 10 people. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Some couples looking to get married where there aren’t such strict group size restrictions are getting in touch with Elisabeth Schalla, one of the owners of the Rustic Wedding Barn in La Broquerie, Man. 

“I feel bad for the other venues. My phone instantly started ringing off the hook and my email started going crazy,” she told CBC News.

She agrees with the other venues, as she’s seen many couples switch to backyard gatherings instead, and don’t have the same standards for guest lists and contact tracing, distancing signage and protocols, intercom reminders and cleaning. 

“Venues are probably safer than backyards.”

The venue owners worry wedding parties won’t be safe if they aren’t held at venues.

“There were weddings happening in people’s backyards, and it was pretty much a free-for-all, but yet we’re abiding by all these rules and regulations,” Tammy said.

But for soon to be wed people like Bailey, the time is now, as she’s already re-booked once.

“We can’t keep putting things on hold forever,” she said.

“Yes, to a certain extent we do need to, of course, take precautions, but at the same time we still need joy in our lives and we can’t just hide away forever and just postpone everything.”

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