How Can I Elope in Toronto, Canada?
This is a common question for tourists and locals alike,
unsure of who qualifies and what the process entails.
Let me break it down for you.
Marriage is a beautiful thing but weddings can be quite expensive and stressful. The Pandemic has given people a reason to keep their ceremony small, ensuring maximum personal interaction. Canada is an eloping destination, despite the hype surrounding beach destinations in the Caribbean or so forth. In fact, I would much prefer officiating at a Muskoka Cottage backdrop than leaving the country. If you were to accuse me of bias, you have solid ground for doing so. I am a proud Canadian, the son of a unique project in a unique context.
My name Is Brother Jeremy and I am a Registered Wedding Officiant here in Ontario. I believe that our Province is the perfect place to exchange your vows, regardless of whether you are a local or a tourist. Home to generations of history, you will find troves of adventure hidden around (and among) our urban sprawl. I hope that the landscape inspires you as much as it does me; (hopefully) inspiring you to follow suit and get married in our beautiful Province!
I hope that this guide simplifies your planning, providing you with all the options, allowing you to make the right decisions for both you and your fiancé. If you have any questions, please drop me a message here. During the winter months I spend most of my time in Toronto while during the summer I migrate to beautiful Prince Edward County.
What Does It "Mean To Elope"?
Elopement is the decision to get married in a smaller setting, one in which the atmosphere is less stressful and more intimate. Past couples had to run away, perhaps due to incompatible families or religious affiliations. While those days are romanced in “Romeo and Juliet” they (generally) do not apply. This would result in situations where both partners come from religious, conservative families. With marriage inaccessible through traditional venues, they may seek elopement with a neutral party (like myself).
People who elope believe in marriage, seeing it as an institution worthy of pursuit. In fact, they have to work harder to find a wedding officiant and arrange the ceremony independently. There are many reasons for eloping, ranging from children to faith to legal implications. As with everything, people only do what they see as beneficial. If you are seeking to elope, you share my love for marriage as a cultural-religious rite.
Elopement is highly customizable, requiring only a few basic elements. Firstly you need a willing man and woman, eligible for marriage under the Federal Marriage Act. Once the decision to wed is made, the couple must decide on a date for the ceremony. This is important due to the nature of the marriage licence, only being valid for a fixed period of time. In other words, if you change dates (beyond the licence expiration date) you will need to acquire a new licence.
The marriage licence will be offered at your local City Hall, regardless of whether you want to get married in Toronto or elsewhere in Ontario. You need to render both payment and identification during your meeting, costing between $130-180. If your fiancé is not available, do not worry as only one of you needs to be there in person. The marriage licence will be partially filled out, with the bottom section left empty as any tampering will render it void.. This package should be delivered (prior to the ceremony) to your wedding officiant, to be filled out and returned (to the Registry) post ceremony. Ensure that the officiant is both registered and fits with your worldview. For example, if you are a sworn atheist you may not want an officiant (like me) who integrates Scripture into the wedding ceremony. However, you may be apathetic about the subject, not caring which texts I reference. In any event, get to know the officiant, being as upfront as possible. It is best to communicate your expectations directly, giving the officiant the facts needed to decide whether this is a good match or not.
How to Get Married in Toronto (and Province)
I will break down the legal component, making it simple and clear.
Go to Toronto City Hall (and elsewhere) to acquire a marriage license. Provide the ID and pay the fee.
Find a wedding officiant that serves your intended location.
The officiant performs the wedding before (at min) two witnesses.
All parties sign the documents.
The officiant offers the newlyweds their first marriage licence.
The officiant returns the complete marriage licence to the Registrar General.
Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy :)
Toronto City Hall Weddings
For many of the religiously unaffiliated, City Hall Weddings used to be the go to place to “tie the knot”. I say “used to” due to the present (December 2021) situation where they are not offering wedding ceremonies at their chapel. Please note that they still do offer the wedding licences, to be completed elsewhere by a registered wedding officiant.
In general City Hall Weddings are rather sterile, especially since the Government is scared of being accused of religious preference (for one over others). Of course this is tongue in cheek but there remains a strong cultural divide between Church and State. While this constitutes sound judgement for legislation, marriage is a particularly religious event, at least in the original context. Considered by some to be miraculous, it binds a man and woman together in a uniquely religious context. In other words, it is not synonymous with signing a business partnership or applying for a line of credit.
If you are looking for an alternative to the City Hall, consider our small wedding chapel in North York. Holding up to 10 people, this “micro” wedding venue has seen over 500 weddings over the years. A second generation wedding officiant, our family has dedicated ourselves to building families and educating the public. While no meals are served here, the ritual bread and wine are offered on premises, an integral component of the wedding ceremony that we offer. We have found that while many people are not necessarily religious, many enjoy the traditions (and customs) of Old.
Cool Places to Get Married
Toronto is a global travel destination, a magnet for travelers from around the world. Proudly called the most multicultural city on the planet, you can visit the world without taking (another) plane.
One angle is to get married in one of the many ethnic neighborhoods in the city, especially if you (or your finance) have some cultural ties. Without going too much into detail here are some examples of cool ethnic neighborhoods to host your nuptials: Spadina’s Chinatown, The Bathurst Jewish Corridor, North York’s Little Russia and Little Tehran and so forth. There are no limits to the types of venues, seeing smaller niches dug within meta genres. For example, you won't just find “Italian Food” but will (instead) find “Calabrian Cuisine”. This is due to the unique migration patterns of immigrants, each bringing their unique cultural heritage. Make sure to get your fact straight lest you confuse a “Greek” with a “Macedonian”.
If the weather is nice, consider one of Toronto’s outdoor wedding venues. This not only accommodates for Covid restrictions, but also showcases our beautiful Canadian landscape. For those coming from abroad, “t-shirt” weather is roughly between April and September. If you are planning an outdoor wedding outside this period, make sure to advise everyone to dress warm. Furthermore, you can rent outdoor heaters for this purpose, allowing people to focus on the event and not the (God Forbid) frostbite.
Despite the shade thrown by Montreal, Toronto is a cool city for any purpose. If you are looking to elope somewhere cool, consider getting married in a Victorian Castle. One of our most famous landmarks, Casa Loma is a historic building located next to George Brown College. Some people say that the building is haunted, giving accounts of hushed voices and unexplained sounds. This will play well into a Halloween Wedding, especially if the guests (and wedding party) go all out and “play the part”. Perhaps there is nothing cooler than having a bunch of ghosts witnessing your wedding. Just a brief caveat: ghosts cannot serve as legal witnesses, no matter how friendly they are :)
Putting Your Ontario Elopement Package Together
Since your event is going to be small, you are likely going to do the planning yourself, as opposed to hiring a wedding planner. While there is no rule against hiring one for a smaller ceremony, it kind of defeats the purpose. In other words, hiring a wedding planner makes the event more expensive and less personal.
Let’s assume that your wedding party is under 20, inclusive of everyone involved.
Rings (two sets)
While there is no law against getting married without food, I have never seen it happen before. Weddings are a time to celebrate, marking a fresh start to a happy family. This tradition goes back to Biblical times where guests would bring gifts and offer them to the newlyweds. The opposite of funerals, this is the correct time to dance, sing, eat, and be merry. While the meal need not be extravagant, it should reflect the tastes of the new bride and groom. This is their day, no questions asked. Eloping affords more control over the wedding, allowing for increased budget control and taste preference.
Many wedding venues offer wedding packages, consisting of food service and hall rental. While they can offer a large host of complementary services they do not have a wedding officiant on the payroll. Instead they defer to the couple, letting them choose the officiant that is right for them. While some have a list of preferred vendors, many officiants are overbooked during wedding season (April-September) and will not be able to commit. One option is to host the entire wedding at the wedding venue of your choice, asking an officiant to perform the service there. This ensures that there is no need to change locations, with the party immediately following the ceremony and legal signing.
Prince Edward County Wedding Venues
There is something magical about “The County”, an island positioned just south of Belleville and the Bay of Quinte. Once a Loyalist Settlement (people who remained loyal to the Monarchy) it has become a destination in of itself. Unlike other coastal regions, Prince Edward County offers slippery-soft beach sand, free of harsh stones and other debris. The water is (during the summer season) always lukewarm, especially in Pleasant Bay (near Consecon). You will find a bevy of potential wedding venues, each offering their own unique flair and atmosphere.
The main wedding venue is the Sandbanks Winery, named after the famous beach of the same name. Offering both food and beverage, it constitutes the higher end of the price spectrum with quality trending strongly. Their vineyard is located in the township of Wellington, a quinte section reminiscent of rural England. The vibe is authentic, showcasing a large selection of urbanites fleeing the city for reprise. Most of the workers are town folk, a special breed. I am proud to call many of these locals friends, some of them even family. There is no shortage of awesome spots to tie the know, each revealing a unique part of history.
For the beer enthusiasts, consider getting married at a Prince Edward County Brewery. Tastefully laid out, they speak of a uniquely Canadian culture, despite having roots abroad. You will find an abundance of Canadiana memorabilia that forces people to remember a time far removed from the present. In fact I would say that Prince Edward County serves as a time capsule in an ever expanding construction project. Who's to say that wedding shots cannot be taken at a Pioneer Homestead or at the feet of a pre-Confed gravestone? Not only is this idea cool, it is super cool :)
Choosing the Right Wedding Officiant
Do I need to put another disclaimer? Yes, I like to think that I am a pretty neat guy, at least my wife tells me when I was her. Kidding aside, you need to make this decision for yourself, after answer some basic questions:
Are you religious? And if so, to what degree?
What degree of Tradition would you like to incorporate?
Do you want to write your own vows or have someone customize them for you?
What type of person are you comfortable working with?
Do you want to book early or do it “on the spur of the moment”?
While the wedding ceremony only takes (roughly) half an hour, the tone set by the officiant will be remembered for years to come. Despite (often) being the last vendor discussed, the ceremony is moot but for the legal wedding signing. While there are many flavours of wedding officiant, make sure that they are both 1) registered and 2) can offer the type of wedding that you are seeking. For example, if you are looking for a Catholic Priest to administer the marriage rites, you will be sadly disappointed if you see my lame attempt. Sure I might try on the costume for laughs but my Latin skills will definitely underwhelm you.