Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Canoe Wedding

Sept 23, 2012, the moment of truth
Photo: Anice Wong

As a avid canoeist, I have to first and foremost thank my loving wife for allowing me to have this canoe wedding. It really was a dream come true. It was a fitting ceremony that perfectly reflected my passion for paddling and our love of the outdoors. I couldn't have been happier! Thank you love!

Days before the wedding, I was obsessed with regularly checking the weather forecast. One minute it was looking doubtful, then the next there was hope. I was stressed. There was many other things that I needed to focus my attention and energy on, but because the wedding hinged on the weather, the anxiety was never very far. Mike Armstrong, the superintendent of Awenda Provincial Park emailed me the night before the wedding and told me not to concern myself with the weather forecast. He said the fronts coming off the bay were changing hourly and encouraged me to go ahead with the original plans. Mike then told me to rest up and enjoy my last night being single. Ironically, it was far from that. I was home alone, as Anita was in Barrie at her sister's place for the early morning prep, neither enjoying it or having a restful sleep!

Prepping for the wedding under overcast skies and rain
Photo: Anice Wong

On the early drive up Highway 400, the weather was fickle, much like the forecast had been for the past week. The day dawned grey, but the sun was now shinning forth from the east and slivers of blue began to appear everywhere. However hopeful those moments were, they were crushed once we past Barrie. As ominous as it could only be, there was a dark mass of low clouds that spanned the horizon directly ahead of us - my spirit sunk. As we approached, Maral, our wedding coordinator and good friend who was driving me, told me to ignore what lay ahead and only think positive thoughts. I was mess of fluctuating emotions, much like a rapid sine wave. It would be a HUGE stretch to say I was cracking a smile and looking relaxed. When it darkened all around us and the rain came down in torrents, so much so that cars had to slow down, there wasn't any sign of positive vibes around me for a mile!

Leave it to Rob to take it up a notch or two when the decorative
boundaries didn't set the way it was supposed to!
Photo: Anice Wong 

Just before we arrived at the park, the rain had stopped - there was hope again. A crew sent down by Mike to clean up the area was just leaving as we pulled into the parking lot of Kettle Lake. There was already a few people there to help with the set up, so we quickly unloaded and got started. It was wet everywhere, but the clouds were already parting and the sun was even coming back out again. I crossed my fingers as I ran back and forth dealing with questions and issues with the set up. At one point, the rain did come again, so we all had to make a mad dash to cover things up, but luckily it wasn't as bad as the previous downpour. I was nervous and worried as ever, but there was no time to think about the weather any more. People were starting to arrive and we still had last minute things to do. In my preoccupation, little did I know that the weather was breaking above me.

Almost all set to go, would the weather cooperate?
Photo: Anny Chiu

The original plan for the wedding was for the whole thing to take place on the water. The one change that had to be accommodated was taking our vows on the deck by the lake. My novel idea of exchanging vows on the water, in canoes, was quickly challenged and squashed. As you can imagine, it carries a certain amount of risk, and even though I would have keeled over in laughter if we fell in, I'm sure many would not share my sentiment - terra firma it was. Our procession took place paddling down the aisle between our friends in canoes on either side. (Yes, we had a canoe audience!)  I got to paddle in first, solo, then the rest of the party followed. The 'boys' from Paddle Shack played a huge role in sterning the canoes in, with a groomsman at the bow and the bridesmaid sitting daintily in the middle with the bouquet. All the while, immersed in the soul stirring strings of Pachelbel's Canon in D, resonating across the lake. If the sight of the paddling procession wasn't moving enough, the music was the clincher. Then it came time for the bride.

Flower petals for the processional lane
Photo: Anice Wong

I managed to hold it together for the whole wedding, but when I saw Jay paddling the stunning red cedar canvas canoe around the bend with my beautiful wife-to-be, I had to catch my breath. It was that brief fleeting moment that made me realize it was all worth it. All the planning, headaches, and effort that went into this canoe wedding - everything. I managed to stay steady on my two feet, willing tears from pouring out of my eyes as I looked out across the lake. My vision may have been a bit blurry, but that beautiful scene will always remain in my mind for as long as I live. It was simply incredible.

Here comes the bride! (Thanks Jay!)
Photo: Anice Wong

The rest of the ceremony went as planned with the weather actually cooperating. In fact, the sun was shinning through between large masses of clouds as they slowly moved through. I was so relieved everything was working out as I hoped. Although, there was one incident that managed to hold our collective breaths during the ceremony. During the ring exchange, the reverend's attempt to give Anita the ring ended up rolling off his notes and went bouncing along the deck floor. All we could think of was the ring slipping through the cracks to the water and mud below. Luckily it didn't, and that brief moment gave everyone quite the laugh, as the reverend breathed a huge sign of relief. Nothing like a little bit of drama to spice up the moment! Besides exchanging traditional rings, we exchanged paddles as well, as a token symbol of what we plan to do for the rest of our lives together. 

The ring was successfully recovered and promptly
placed on my ring finger!
Photo: Anice Wong

The clouds certainly added drama to the scenery,
but luckily not in the form of rain!
Photo: Anice Wong

The ceremony ended with Anita and I paddling out to the middle of the lake as our canoe guest blew bubbles our way. Our paddling guest then joined us together as one big flotilla for a nice group shot before concluding the wedding. It was finally all over. All my worries, anxieties, and fears during the week were for naught, as the wedding turned out perfect. I couldn't have asked for more. Was it meant to be, or was it just fluke, or did a higher power have something to do with it, I have no clue. Either way, I'm just grateful that everything worked out so well, because after some photos, packing up, and saying goodbyes, the rains came again. Phew!

The successful conclusion to not just a wedding,
but a canoe wedding!
Photo: Anice Wong

The reception was like any traditional wedding, with a few noticeable differences. Such as mini decorated canoe at the reception area for the gifts, ornamental wooden canoes at the tables (These were a hit, everyone wanted one!), canoe cookies as gift for the parting guests, and most noticeably the wedding cake. Normally at a wedding you don't make your own cake, but as Anita and her father were once bakers, they naturally took it upon themselves to make it. Although surprisingly, Anita took the wedding theme to dressing the cake and literally ran with it! As I was not privy to the design, I had a good laugh when I got to see it for the first time the night before. Let's just say, the wedding cake was not only hilarious, but got quite the reaction! See below.

Anita's creativity coming through in the cake design.
Appropriate, but should I be worried?!
Photo: Ellen Lee

Lastly, speeches at weddings can sometimes be a bit drawn out and sappy. I was specifically instructed by my future mother-in-law to ensure there wasn't many and that they were all short. Well, that was after I requested both my groomsmen and best man to give a speech - oops! Concerned, I urged and reminded them to keep it short and light-hearted. It didn't help when they told me how many pages they had at the reception hall! I was worried. Yet, once the speeches started, it was a continuum of non-stop laughter. Literally, all of them had the audience in stitches, including Anita and I. They all spoke about my passion for paddling, but threw in a healthy dose of ridicule, sarcasm and jokes my way. I found out later, everyone that followed the first speech was worried how they were going to measure up to the previous one, but in fact, they honestly just got better! Even when it got to Anita's turn to hear it from her sister's, it didn't stop. We were in tears. It certainly was the highlight of the reception, so much so that I was approached by many afterwards and told they were the best wedding speeches ever. Not surprisingly, the wedding speeches were longer than expected, but when my mother-in-law came by afterwards and told me the speeches were terrific, I knew I was off the hook!

The speeches were the highlight of the reception.
We couldn't stop laughing!
Photo: Anice Wong 

The day finally ended just before midnight. We were tired, but it was a good tired. There was a warm fuzzy feeling inside of us and we were basking in the afterglow. It certainly was a very long day with all the extra travel, but every bit of it was totally worth it. Everything and everyone came together when it counted, and like a tough canoe trip, we worked through everything and came out of it with unforgettable experiences and  memories. The dream had actually come true.

A canoe wedding - who would have ever thought?

Canoe cookies for our guest. As you can guess, Anita and
 her father were very busy baking!
Photo: Ellen Lee

The ornamental canoes were more popular
than the centrepieces!
Photo: Anice Wong

Any wedding, let alone a canoe wedding wouldn't be possible without the help and assistance of many people. Anita and I want to especially thank those that made this unique wedding possible.

Mike Armstrong, Awenda Provincial Park
- Mike's advice and support, including recommending Kettle Lake, which sealed the deal
- to park staff we dealt with and even those that cleaned up before the wedding

Photo: Anice Wong

Many Alcaide,  Meta Telemedia Group
- a friend who unfortunately couldn't be there, but generously provided the sound system

Kelly McDowell, The Complete Paddler
- who provided the mini gift-accepting-canoe and some paddles

Photo: Ellen Lee

Reverend Gerry McMillan
- for officiating over our marriage and accepting the unique circumstances that came with it
- incorporating an element of canoeing in our vows, that spoke to the paddler in all of us

Photo: Anice Wong

The Paddle Shack 'Boys' - Jay, Chris & Brett
- the 'sternsmen' for the wedding procession, you guys were the anchor! 
- for providing their beautiful line of Alchemist canoes for the ceremony including paddles & life jackets
- Chris allowing us to use his gorgeous cedar canvas canoe, a 1928 Peterborough Champlain
- the "Just Married" paddle created by Jay & his mom
- supplying us the popular ornamental canoes

Photo: Anice Wong

And lastly, to all my canoe tripping friends. Without all of you, this canoe wedding wouldn't have been possible!

Photo: Anice Wong

Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts!

Photo: Anice Wong

With love and gratitude,
David & Anita

And as they say,....the rest is history!
Photo: Anice Wong

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