Can you have a wedding in the Canadian Rocky Mountains during the COVID-19 Crisis?

Weddings are permitted in the Canadian Rocky Mountains during the COVID-19 crisis – with restrictions. However, this is not currently as easy as it seems. There is a lot of confusion and misinformation regarding hosting a mountain wedding. To add to the confusion, many of our mountain venues are located not only in Alberta but also in British Columbia. British Columbia and Alberta have different mandated guidelines for gatherings. Furthermore, non-essential travel is discouraged. The guideline is somewhat vague in Alberta, leaving many to interpret this as meaning that you can have a wedding close to home (in your local area), so long as you can follow the mandated guidelines. Of course, as Alberta moves into their relaunch phase (three phases), the mandated guidelines may change over time.

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For international wedding couples, our international borders are currently closed. At this point, it is difficult to ascertain when the borders may reopen, but speculation is that it will not be sooner than June 1st and possibly not until the end of August. The Federal Government of Canada extended the border restrictions between the USA and Canada until May 30th. After this date, we might have more answers.

Alberta and British Columbia gathering restrictions

The Alberta Government has mandated that “people gathered in groups of fewer than 15 people must maintain a distance of 2 metres from one another.” As well, gatherings must “occur in a space that allows for mandated physical distancing (at least 2 metres between attendees)”, this is to protect Albertans’ health and limit the spread of COVID-19. “No gathering of more than 15 people is allowed in one indoor or outdoor location (this includes weddings)”.

In British Columbia, by the Order of the Provincial Health Officer, “wedding ceremonies need to consist of no more than five people, the couple, the marriage commissioner and two witnesses and that they physically distance during the ceremony”.

What Locations are in the Province of Alberta and which are in British Columbia (BC)?

For those who are not familiar with the various locations, Banff, Lake Louise, Canmore, and Jasper are all in Alberta (this includes Storm Mountain Lodge which borders Kootenay National Park). Emerald Lake, Golden, Fernie, Radium, Invermere, Cranbrook, etc., are located within BC. If you are getting married in one of these areas, be sure you familiar with each province’s guidelines. There are hefty fees if you are found in violation of the mandated guidelines. In Alberta, the fees are anywhere from $1000. and up to $500k for recidivists, or more serious offenses.

What else do you need to know about weddings during the COVID-19 crisis?

In Alberta, “Any gatherings with fewer than 15 people must not include activities that could promote disease transmission. Examples of high-risk activities include singing, hand-shaking, hugging, preparing food, sharing food or beverages, or buffet-style food”.*

To further mitigate the risk of gatherings there are several recommendations:

  • Cancel, postpone or reschedule or explore virtual attendance for attendees from demographic groups at greater risk of severe disease (people over 60 years of age or older and individuals with chronic medical conditions).
  • Exclude people who have any of the following symptoms including cough, fever, shortness of breath, runny nose, or sore throat (even if the symptoms appear mild).
  • Reduce the number of participants or change venue to allow for physical distancing at all times
  • Stagger arrivals and departures from gatherings
  • Increase access to handwashing stations or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Increase the frequency of cleaning of surfaces that are touched often
  • Promote personal protective practices (cough and sneeze etiquette and hand hygiene)

For more information and current updates on restrictions for gatherings in Alberta go to: https://www.alberta.ca/restrictions-on-gatherings.aspx

For BC, reference: http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19/event-planning

Weddings in the Parks

Access to the National Parks (this includes Banff National Park, Yoho National Park, and Kootenay National Parks) is still currently closed. There are plans to possibly open June 1st. As of May 1st, Alberta Parks is working on reopening. They have asked that you have patience as it may take time to remove barriers. However, they are saying that non-essential travel is not recommended, and to please respect the health and safety of small communities by planning your trip without stops for gas or food.

Areas such as Banff and Lake Louise are more complicated than Canmore which is located just outside Banff National Park. The National Parks (including Banff National Park) are still closed, and there are barricades on roads to some of the local tourist spots such as Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake. There are also random checks by peace officers to ensure that you are local or have “essential” business in the Parks. Visitors are not necessarily turned back, but they are made aware that facilities (including public washrooms) are closed.

Clearly, this does not make for an ideal situation for weddings, even if they are “permitted” in the province.

Alberta Relaunch

On April 29, 2020, the Government of Alberta announced their relaunch strategy which is a 3 staged approach to opening the economic sectors of Alberta (the pre-launch phase is May 1 – May 14th).

During the pre-launch phase, Alberta Parks is open as of May 1st. However, please note that all facilities including washrooms are still closed. Alberta Parks has asked for your help so that they can stay open, safe, and accessible:

  • Remember that the facilities are closed. Albertans are asked to take out whatever you take in.
  • Visit Parks near your home. Now is not the time for long road trips or non-essential travel.
  • Please come prepared with your own water, snacks, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper.
  • Don’t visit if you are sick or recently exposed to someone with COVID-19. Bring a cloth mask and wear it when you are near other people.
  • Only visit parks (or hike) where you can maintain at least two metres of physical distance at all times.
  • Parking is permitted only in designated areas.
  • Any gatherings must be less than 15 people and people must maintain a distance of 2 metres from one another.
  • Please continue to avoid high-risk backcountry activities.

As mentioned, the National Parks including Banff National Park, Yoho National Park, Kootenay Parks are still closed. They are tentatively set to open on June 1st, but this could change.

Alberta Highlights Phase 1 (pertaining to weddings)

During Phase 1 (May 14th) here are a few of the highlights that may pertain to weddings:

  • Non-essential travel is still discouraged.
  • Some retail stores including clothing stores and hair salons can open with strict guidelines.
  • Restaurants are able to open at 50% capacity so long as they can operate safely within the mandated guidelines that include proper disinfecting of high touchpoints, and more.
  • The government has left it up to the individual businesses to choose whether or not they wish to open on May 14th and businesses that choose to do so must prove that they can follow the re-opening guidelines.

Currently, many restaurants in Canmore and Banff are choosing to stay closed but may offer take-out and curbside pick-up. Some restaurants may open on May 14th, as well as some of the hotels/accommodations. It is important to keep in mind, that many of these businesses will have difficulty opening due to staffing, and trying to operate while only at 50% capacity. For now, it is difficult to say how many venues will be operating fully in May, or even in June.

What Weddings will look like during the COVID-19 crisis?

It remains unclear as to what weddings might look like for the month of May, and beyond. However, if strict social distancing guidelines are followed, there is hope that the National Parks will open in June, followed by more hotels and restaurants. That said, we do know that weddings and gatherings will still have to remain under 15 until likely the end of August (as announced by Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer).

While you may be able to have dinner at a restaurant, you are still expected to social distance from anyone who is not in your household. Conceivably, you could have dinner in the same restaurant with your guests (under 13 including the couple), but perhaps your guests may be at another table at least 2 meters away? For now, the Government of Alberta has said that it will be up to the businesses (wedding professionals in this context) to “determine the context” of what their business (wedding) will look like while maintaining the social distancing guidelines. Guidelines for specific industries may still be on the way, but for now, it seems open to interpretation as to how the guidelines will be followed (so long as they are followed).

Options for Couples

Some couples are opting for a private elopement ceremony, while some couples are choosing to live-stream broadcast their nuptials for their guests who cannot be there. Many of these couples are also planning a larger celebration for down the road when the current health crisis has stabilized.

If you are needing help planning your elopement or small wedding, let us know! We can help you navigate our current conditions (or for when things open up). One thing is for certain, COVID-19 is not going to stop weddings, and they can’t touch love!

We hope to welcome you to the mountains soon…

Stay well!

PHOTO CREDIT: Justine Milton Photography

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