Matthew Huntley and his wife were in the final stages of planning their May 2020 wedding when COVID-19 hit.
By mid-March, the Fredericton, N.B.-based couple had already paid for their celebration in full, moved their date once, and spent an estimated "600 days" preparing, Huntley says. So when restrictions on large gatherings and inter-provincial travel were imposed, the pair weren't ready to give up. Instead, they opted to hold a small ceremony in a friend's backyard with a few guests in-person. The rest tuned in via Zoom and Facebook Live.
"We wanted to get it done," Huntley says. "It was just a little easier just to do it now. It's about being married, it's not about anything else."
The duo are among countless couples who, in recent months, have faced the seemingly impossible decision to change longstanding plans for one of the biggest days of their lives. While many couples across Canada have opted to reschedule their weddings and hold out for the day they can safely celebrate in person, a handful are leveraging technology to recreate this magic online.
But Huntley cautions other couples going the Zoom route to be protective of their privacy. The end of his own wedding was 'zoombombed' — infiltrated by malicious hackers in other parts of the world, who replaced the ceremony feed with disturbing images — and he's spent the weeks since trying to get his $20 subscription fee refunded.
"Thank goodness we had our friend [running Facebook Live] as well," he says. "So, we have that memory and it got all of it, from start to finish."
The pair are still planning to hold an additional in-person celebration next year in the venue they've already paid for. And they managed to keep their remote ceremony relatively low-cost, as friends offered up space, food, and decorations for free as wedding gifts. Their photographer, who'd already been paid $200 for the night, was eager to show up after losing a number of other gigs to cancelled ceremonies this season. Huntley's wife purchased a new weather-appropriate wedding dress for an additional $600, plus alteration fees, and her best friend made the pair a cake.
Beyond the technological challenge of configuring a livestream, virtual weddings are typically much easier to plan than traditional weddings, says Toronto-based wedding planner Trevor Frankfort.
"You're not planning for hundreds of people ... you're really just kind of tailoring it to yourself," Frankfort says. "You don't really need all the food, you don't need the band, you don't need any of the bells and whistles that come with having the wedding at an actual venue."
The legal requirements of a wedding — like an officiant and pair of witnesses — are still necessary to ensure that the matrimony holds up in court. But beyond these staples, going the virtual route can be a low-cost, low-stakes way for couples to safely celebrate their love with friends and family.
However, those looking to add additional touches can get creative. Frankfort has seen some clients send champagne and other celebratory trinkets to guests for opening mid-ceremony. Others have hired caterers to deliver pre-prepared meals to guests to eat while livestreaming and conversing with one another. Much like at a traditional wedding, the possibilities for pampering attendees are limitless, and can cost as much or as little as the couple-to-be can afford.
"You can do a cute little package for under $30; you can also do one that's more elaborate for anywhere upwards of $100, it really depends," Frankfort says.
He notes that couples with additional room in their budget may consider hiring a professional videographer to run a high-quality livestream through a personalized website with secure software. A service of this kind starts at around $3,500, Frankfort says.
"Considering how much you're saving on having the wedding in a venue, maybe this is a way you want to splurge," he says. "To make sure that people can see it from overseas, or even locally."
Frankfort urges couples considering virtual ceremonies to think critically before committing to hosting a virtual wedding. While it's an affordable option for those on a deadline, couples with time in their schedule may one day be glad they waited.
"Everybody wants to have the big party, everybody wants to have everybody together, family and friends," Frankfort says. "If it's not dire to have the wedding right now, then why not wait?"
While Huntley says he's glad to finally be legally married, he's still looking forward to uniting with loved ones at his "real" wedding next year.
"We want [our guests] there in person," Huntley says. "We wanted everyone to be able to enjoy it with us… We are 100 per cent having another wedding. We're having the big reception, the big everything. The big day."