AMA member Tori McInnes and her new husband, Shawn, in Banff (photo: Marcin Karpowicz)

How to Plan an Intimate Alberta Wedding in the Age of COVID-19

By Alison McGill

Planning a typical wedding is stressful; getting hitched during a pandemic makes it even more challenging. But our new normal of intimate nuptials offers a fresh focus on the beautiful details of your big day. Here’s everything you need to know about planning a beautifully intimate Alberta wedding during COVID times—and beyond.

AMA member Tori McInnes and her husband Sean planned their dream wedding for August 20, 2020 in Santorini, part of a luxury two-week Mediterranean Cruise. Because they were eloping, their ceremony was already going to be ultra-intimate. (When they started planning in 2018, they had no idea how on-trend their wedding would be!) They were looking forward to marking their special day in an epic location, just the two of them.

“We were planning to meet a photographer when our ship docked in Santorini. And he would travel with us to meet our officiant in a beautiful, remote location,” Tori says. “We chose Santorini for its stunning ocean views and architecture. I wanted our photographer to take some editorial-style portraits to capture the beauty of both our love and the location.”

But the onset of a global pandemic had an immediate (and ongoing) impact on weddings and travel. When COVID-19 hit, Tori realized the dream day she had planned would not be a 2020 reality—nor would it happen in the foreseeable future.

The couple hadn’t hired a wedding planner to map out their Greek nuptials; they did, however, work with AMA Travel. Tori says the help was invaluable in handling the stress of their trip cancellation.

“AMA was incredible, dealing with all the nightmares surrounding our wedding and travel plans.” She applauds the communication from AMA Travel counsellors when the pandemic was first declared. “They were on top of all the cancellation details and we were able to get all our money back.”

Of course, it wasn’t the fairy-tale ending Tori had in mind. “Once you settle on your wedding plan, you immediately start imagining your day and all the wonderful moments,” she adds. “When we were told there was zero chance of travelling, I felt like the rug had been ripped out from under me. I didn’t want to push the date to the following year, so we eventually started to consider other options to recalibrate.”

The Edmonton couple decided to stick with August as their wedding month and booked an elopement at Bow Falls Trail in Banff, a place they had visited often and loved. “It’s one of the top wedding destinations in the world and such an incredible place to get married in our own backyard,” Tori smiles. They had a morning ceremony, followed by an eight-hour adventure with their wedding photographers, who captured some exquisite images.

“We stopped at Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, the Columbia Icefield and several other scenic spots along the way,” Tori recalls. “We had champagne toasts and lunch. We honestly enjoyed the best day.”

Looking back, she’s grateful how the wedding turned out. “Unlike Santorini, Banff is a place we can revisit often and share with family and friends. It was wonderful to get married at such a special spot in our own country.”

top-down image of woman's hands point to calendar and to-do list planning an intimate alberta wedding
photo: Prostock Studio/iStock

Couples looking to get married in the next 12 to 24 months should hire a pro to pilot them through this new normal. “You need somebody to help navigate uncertainty and help you celebrate safely and beautifully,” says Julianne Young, owner and lead wedding designer of Calgary’s Julianne Young Weddings Inc. “You and your guests’ health and safety is the top priority. Having an experienced event professional guide you through your options can save so much stress.”

A wedding planner will keep you apprised of COVID-19’s sometimes-daily updates and changes, giving you the freedom to enjoy the planning experience and feel confident you’re making the best decisions possible.

Once you find a suitable wedding professional or service, where do you go from there? The first thing you need to determine is when you want to get married, according to Jennifer Bergman, president of Edmonton-based Jennifer Bergman Weddings. “We are having conversations with all our couples to discuss the very real possibility that we’ll still be under some level of restrictions for next wedding season—or longer.”

If it’s still important for you to get married within the next year, Bergman suggests planning a smaller celebration. “And if you’re able to expand the guest list closer to the date, it’ll be a nice bonus.” Regardless of whether you’re looking at 2021 or 2022, it’s important to secure a date, venue and key vendors ASAP. The next couple of years will be busier due to the backlog of postponed events.

Intimate weddings have become an unexpected silver lining of the pandemic. Among other things, a smaller-scale event affords you the unique opportunity to splurge on luxuries you may not have been able to with a larger party.

“As couples are spending less money on entertaining their guests, they can add more frills to their celebration,” says Alexandra Slawek, owner of Boutiq Weddings in Calgary. Since the onset of COVID-19 and the subsequent rise of the micro-wedding, she’s been inspired by the creativity of her clients in taking their celebrations to the next level. “For example, you can have a harpist playing for the ceremony,” she notes. “Or you could serve a super-indulgent gourmet meal.”

Couples can also afford to have intimate weddings at more exclusive venues, which may have previously been out of their budget. “Many couples are also very much on board with throwing two parties—an intimate one now and a larger one once it’s safe to do so,” Slawek says.

married couple walking on dock in front of lakeside restaurant at intimate alberta wedding
Nuptials with a view at The Lake House in Calgary (photo: Donovan Bissett Photography)

Edmonton-based destination wedding photographer Carey Nash has travelled to more than 80 countries, capturing incredible images of just-marrieds. But there’s no place like home: “I love Banff, Jasper, Kananaskis Country and David Thompson Country,” he says. “Alberta is unquestionably one of world’s most beautiful backdrops.” Many Alberta venues have launched new elopement and intimate wedding packages to accommodate smaller weddings. Here are three suggestions.

Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge: The historic mountain resort is a favourite of the British royal family, who love the one-of-a-kind views, accommodations and service. The lodge has launched new wedding programs for intimate events. “Smaller weddings come with a different price tag, so we’ve been working closely with couples on budget and wedding scope,” says Kathryn Abeysekera, the property’s wedding catering manager.

Kananaskis Mountain Lodge: “This is my personal favourite spot to get married in Alberta,” says wedding planner Alexandra Slawek. The luxury property offers picture-perfect surroundings no matter the season. It also offers several options for outdoor celebrations, which, in a time of physical distancing, may make a larger guest list possible.

The Lake House: Slawek says this Calgary restaurant is an inspiring urban option. The rustic space, incredible food and breathtaking views of Lake Bonavista tick all the boxes of an unforgettable wedding venue. As part of today’s micro-wedding trend, The Lake House has introduced small celebration packages for groups of less than 30, and you can celebrate with a wedding brunch, lunch or dinner.

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When planning a wedding, it’s essential to seek out expert guidance. AMA members can access a host of services to help manage the logistical details of your marriage, from registries and insurance to travel and vendor discounts.

Marriage licence and certificate: You’ll need a licence to marry in Alberta and a certificate to prove you’re married. AMA Registries can help you get both. Book your marriage licence appointment online.

Wedding vendors: AMA members get valuable discounts through AMA Rewards partners. For instance, save on wedding attire at Derks Formals (save 10% in-store) and Ethos Bridal (save up to $200 in-store), or get a $350 print credit on wedding sessions with McMaster Photographers. Find more deals at

Event liability insurance: AMA Insurance can help you arrange event liability insurance, which provides protection if there are damages to the venue/property or injuries to anyone present. (Keep in mind this isn’t the same as “wedding insurance,” which covers your financial investment, like having to book another photographer if yours cancels.) You can also add liquor liability and personal property coverage.

Travel and honeymoon: Even if you had to change up your dream destination wedding, AMA Travel can assist you with planning an Alberta elopement or close-to-home nuptials. Your travel counsellor will help book hotels, mountain resort packages and even romantic honeymoons in the province and beyond.