Working out the wedding guestlist can be a challenge, especially if you’re social. Here’s how Alanna & Jacqueline went from 100 to 2.
Jacq and I are both from Peterborough, Ontario, but had never met before. We lived down the road from each other, went to different high schools, and there is a 3-year difference in age. Our first date was on September 24, 2017, but we became “official” on January 16, 2018, since there was a 3-month period where Jacq went traveling. We met through our mutual friend, whom I traveled with ten years ago to New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji.
Jacq and Baylea went to school together for a year and became instant friends. One weekend, I attended a friend’s wedding, and Baylea was bartending the event. I hadn’t seen her in a while because we live in different cities, but we caught up, and she asked me if I was single. At the time, I had been but wasn’t looking for anything as I had just returned from a 6-month trip to South America and Southeast Asia. She told me that she had this friend with whom she thought I’d get along well. I wasn’t in the mindset to be dating, and I told Baylea that, but she said that the two of us would be great friends if nothing more. So, I figured why not. I had nothing to lose.
I got Jacq’s number from Baylea, reached out to her, and we had our first date set for a week later. At that time, I had been working as a Venue Manage for the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Toronto, and Jacq was coming to Toronto for a Comedy show at the festival.
We decided to meet for brunch that morning and talked, laughed, and shared travel stories for about 4 hours. I learned that day that she had a backpacking trip planned with no end date in sight, so I didn’t really think anything was going to come out of this (relationship-wise). However, I know what it’s like to go traveling without a plane ticket home, so I just figured we’d have a nice date together, we’d go on a few more before she left, and then if she ever came back to Canada, we’d see where we were at.
I had to go to work directly after our date, but I had such a good time that I suggested that Jacq come to the venue that I was working at after the comedy show she was seeing since the venues were all open late for the festival hours. So we resumed our date and shut the bar down (it was 4:00 am, and I’m normally in bed by 10:00 pm, so this was a huge deal). We spent a few more days together before her trip, and then she left to go on her adventure. This is where I thought things had ended, but Jacq had other ideas in mind.
She traveled around Europe and parts of Southeast Asia. I had just gotten back from my own 6-month backpacking trip, have a German background, and went to school in Switzerland, so I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a lot in my lifetime. We discussed different places she should check out, and she went to EVERY.SINGLE.ONE. How damn romantic is that? For her to travel to and get to experience the same cities that I had gone to in my previous travels! We talked almost every single day while she was gone. Eventually, Jacq cut her trip much shorter than initially anticipated because she feared I would meet someone else and move on. She flew home just before Christmas of 2017, invited me to see her the day after she got home, and we made our relationship official in January 2018.
Tell us about the proposal.
It was November 18, 2018. We wake up early most mornings, have coffee, and read in bed. It was around 5:00 am, and I was reading in bed, and Jacq was grabbing the coffee so that we could do our morning reading. She kept asking me all these random questions from upstairs (I can’t remember all of them, but they were super random, and then asked me something about the plants?). She was trying to get me to come upstairs where she had wanted to propose.
But at 5:00 am, I was staying put. I went to the bathroom, and she eventually came back downstairs with the coffees and asked me a few more questions, “What do you have planned for today?” “What are we going to have for breakfast?” Finally, “What are you doing in there?” I replied, “I’m picking at my face! Leave me alone!” I finished whatever I was doing, jumped back into bed, and asked her, “What’s with all the questions this morning?” She just looked at me from beside the bed, got down on one knee, and said, “I have one more to ask you. Will you marry me?” and then pulled out the box. There was a whole bunch of other nice shit that was said, but neither of us can remember because I think we both blacked out (in a good way, of course).
Any stories from the lead-up to the wedding, stressful or funny?
I mean, Covid was stressful. We were originally meant to have a larger wedding of 140 people planned for August 8, 2020, but the pandemic put a hard stop to that one. So we rescheduled for August 7, 2021, and in February of 2021, we decided to cancel the wedding altogether since we didn’t want to take a chance on continuing if we couldn’t have everyone there. Once Jacq and I decided to cancel the wedding, we started talking about doing a surprise wedding instead. When we first started talking about what kind of wedding we wanted, we discussed how cool it would be to execute a surprise wedding. But we both have lots of friends and larger families, so we decided to go the big wedding route instead. But when we had to cancel the wedding, we started talking about reverting to the surprise wedding idea.
We connected with our wedding planner Diana McCulloch and talked to her about the logistical planning of doing a very intimate surprise wedding. She LOVED the idea.
Bhreagh also helps her mom out when a wedding happens. They are a dynamic duo and very talented, so we’d hire them for our wedding planning!
We were never meant to get married in Prince Edward County, but we just so happened to find a cute Farmhouse called “The Harlow” that we thought would be perfect for our special surprise day. I think the most significant stress of our wedding was having to “cancel” it and then continuing to plan for it without anyone knowing what was happening (except for the vendors, of course). It’s so hard to keep everything a secret when you know that the biggest weekend of your life is coming up, and you have to keep everything hush hush. Jacq and I love to tell stories, and it was SO hard and stressful to keep this under wraps.
We drove up to Prince Edward County with one of our wedding guests (Erin), which was extremely difficult because she had NO idea that we were getting married the next day. I had to hide all our wedding stuff in a secret compartment in our car so that Erin wouldn’t notice anything for the wedding that was happening the day after.
Jacq had invited her sister Nancy up for the weekend as her guest. We told Erin and Nancy that we wanted to celebrate the “weekend that would have been our wedding” and told them that we had everything covered and for them to show up and enjoy. Nancy was driving up from Peterborough and meeting us in Prince Edward County, and we had asked her to pick up all of the food we were having catered for the weekend. We had to remind Mark Brunet (one of Jacq’s friends who owns Fresh Urban Plate – our caterer) that this was a surprise weekend, and when Nancy came to pick up the food, to not say anything.
The logistical planning and keeping this wedding a secret was definitely very stressful, leading up to the actual moment when Nancy and Erin found out that we were getting married! But it all makes for an incredibly romantic story.
Talk us through your wedding day.
6:00 am: Wake Up: We both go for a run. I almost got bit by a dog who ran after me as I was running by. That’s never happened before – very weird. Come home, shower, have coffee, breakfast, get ready, hang out, have some laughs about the night before, etc.
9:30 am: Diana, Bhreagh, and Rob (our wedding planners and partners) are parked next door, unloading all the stuff for the wedding. Bhreagh and Diana had to hide in the neighbors’ bushes while we got into Rob’s car so that Nancy and Erin wouldn’t suspect anything weird going on. Diana had brought up this beautiful arbor and had some plants and themed wedding things they’d use later on.
10:00 am: I told Erin and Nancy that I had hired a private driver for the day to drive us around to all these different wineries and breweries so that we didn’t have to worry about having a designated driver. Little did Erin and Nancy know that our driver Rob (Diana’s husband and Bhreagh’s dad), and I had known each other since I was in grade 4. While Diana and Bhreagh were hiding in the neighbor’s bushes, Rob came to pick us up.
It was super weird to pretend that we didn’t know each other and act as if we were meeting for the first time. Jacq could tell that I was nervous, and Nancy could also tell that I was feeling a little off because Rob and I were just chit-chatting away in the car. I was asking him tons of questions that I already knew the answer to, “Do you have kids?” “What do you do for work when you’re not driving?” “Have you ever had a dog?” etc., but I wanted to act as normal as I could. I was a little hungover from the night before, so I blamed my chattiness on that.
Rob drove us around to a Ciderhouse, our favorite brewery, and then we ended the day at a local winery. Bhreagh’s partner Jeff also helped us out by saving us the nicest table at the winery, which he had to hang out at and save before we got there since you couldn’t make reservations anywhere. We passed him on the way into the winery without Erin and Nancy having any idea that Jeff was part of the bigger plan.
The hardest part of this surprise stage was convincing Nancy and Erin that we had to go back to The Harlow when we had just started hitting up the wineries and breweries that Prince Edward County had to offer. I had to come up with the excuse that I was too hungover, it was too hot out, and I really wanted to shower and relax before we went out for our “fancy dinner” that we had scheduled for later that evening.
Erin had asked us if we wanted to go to a distillery before heading back to The Harlow, so that was hard to navigate around. Finally, I just told her we would go before Rob drove us to dinner later that night. I just had to figure out a way to get back to The Harlow so that we could start getting ready for our 4:30 pm ceremony.
1:30 pm: Rob is now driving us back to the Harlow, where we’re about to surprise Nancy and Erin and tell them that we’re getting married in a few hours. Diana, Bhreagh, Mary (Photographer), and Nicole from Juniper Beauty (Hair/Makeup) are all at The Harlow waiting for us to pull up.
2:00 pm: We get out of the vehicle and are just casually walking to the front of the farmhouse, where Diana and Bhreagh have set up two bouquets of flowers along with two labeled candles that Jacq bought which said, “Welcome to our Wedding – August 7, 2021”. This is what it looked like.
As we walked up to the front steps, the dialogue went something like this (from what I remember).
Nancy: “What’s on the porch?”
Alanna: “Oh, weird. I don’t know. What is that?”
Erin: “Awwww, someone left you two flowers.”
Alanna: “Did they? That’s nice. I wonder why they’d do that. Are those candles? What do they say?”
Erin: Erin bends down to read the candles out loud. “Welcome to Our Wedding – August 7, 2021.”
Nancy looks at Jacq, and Erin looks at Alanna. Then, we all look at each other.
Erin: “What’s going on?”
Alanna: “We’re getting married!”
And then some other things were said because the surprise was now out of the bag. So Jacq and I can finally relax. And then we all hugged and cried because the surprise went off as well as it could have. Mary was inside capturing all these beautiful moments and then came outside to snap some more pictures of the surprise. And Bhreagh, Diana, and Nicole came out to say hello and bring everyone else inside to get started!
2:30 pm: We all go inside to get our hair and makeup done. Have some snacks and a few drinks.
4:00 pm: Officiant arrives. Jacq is with Nancy getting ready and finishing up, and I’m with Erin getting ready. We’re a little late, but it’s ok because there are not 140 people waiting for us. Bhreagh and Diana have everything done that they wanted to for the ceremony. The venue looks beautiful.
5:00 pm: Erin and Nancy go downstairs to prepare. Jacq and I do our first look. I cannot get over how stunning she looks. Her wedding dress is perfect. I showed her the suit that I got made because it had the words “I Love You” sewn on the inside. We both exchange a few special words, snap a few “first look” pictures, and then go downstairs to get ready for the ceremony.
5:30 pm: The ceremony. It’s perfect. Jacq and I walk down the aisle to Brandi Carlile’s song “I Belong To You.” Erin and Nancy are standing beside us. Mary and Nicole take pictures, and Bhreagh and Diana cover the music piece. Our officiant performs the ceremony, Jacq and I sign our papers, we share champagne with everyone and take some pictures overlooking the farmers’ fields in the background.
6:30 pm: The 6 (Jacq and I, Nancy and Erin, and Mary and Nicole) drive 30 minutes away to the Sandbanks Provincial Park, where Mary has a boat! She drives us over to the sand dunes for the second half of our pictures. The weather is perfect, and Jacq and I run around for an hour taking pictures and taking in every moment we can. Nancy and Erin are sipping champagne, having snacks with Nicole, and enjoying the sunset.
8:30 pm: We drive back to The Harlow, where Mark Brunet has driven up from Peterborough to prepare a delicious dinner! He cooked an incredible meal on the grill, and we had dinner and drinks outside under the stars.
The entire day was magical, intimate, and just about Jacq and me. It was nothing like I had ever imagined since I had always planned that we’d have a larger wedding.
It was perfect in every single way.
Advice for other couples planning a smaller wedding?
YES. The best advice that I can give is just DO YOU. It’s hard (for some people like Jacq and me, who are very social) to suddenly go from a wedding of 140 people down to 4. We went back and forth on the number of people we wanted there (trying to get down to 20), and the numbers kept getting bigger. So eventually, we said, let’s just do super small, and invite one person each and not tell anyone else that we are getting married. I don’t care about what anyone else thinks. This is YOUR day. So you have to do what’s best for you and your partner.
Photography by Mary Zita Payne