Married to the past
History-themed weddings are increasingly popular across Canada.
Weddings today are commonly associated with sleek white dresses, champagne flutes, and fine dining. But more and more couples are choosing to celebrate their special days by turning back time.
On July 13, 2014, Janet La France and Chris Black celebrated their nuptials as if it were 1815. The wedding guests awaited the bride’s grand entrance in the oldest standing structure in Winnipeg: the former Grey Nuns convent and chapel.
The idea to have a historical wedding grew out of the couple’s shared love for the art of historical re-enactment. More than ten years ago, La France and Black met at a re-enactment event, and ever since the couple has partaken in re-enactments across Canada and the United States.
“It’s been a hobby of ours for quite some time, and it seemed like a good way to put our own spin on our wedding,” La France said.
On the day of the wedding, La France walked down the aisle in a custom-made white cotton voile empire gown and a grey silk overdress inspired by paintings and original garments from the early 1800s.
Black waited for her at the altar in an outfit from his preexisting re-enactment wardrobe. His dark blue tailcoat and grey silk waistcoat complimented his fitted fall-front trousers quite nicely, and he added a beaver-felt top hat for some style.
Black, who changed outfits several times during the big day, said the outfits seem intricate by today’s standards but were common for typical citizens of 1815.
“In this time period, people would have just worn their Sunday best to get married,” La France said.
As they said, “I do,” the couple was surrounded by eighty of their closest friends and family members. The groomsmen, who were fellow re-enactors, wore regency-era outfits, and the bridesmaids wore dark blue empire gowns handmade by the groom. The officiant stood out from the wedding party, as he was styling 1730s-era garb. The wedding invitations read, “costumes encouraged but not required.”
“Some of our guests did go all-out and found a seamstress to make them an outfit. It was really nice to have them there blending in with us,” La France said.
Afterwards, the newlyweds and their guests enjoyed a reception at Fort Gibraltar, a Winnipeg historic site that replicates a North West Company fort circa 1815.
As guests sipped tea and ate scones, a pianist and fiddler played music of the time period.
The couple made their own table runners with historic fabric and used their antique silverware as decoration. They even served a traditional nineteenth-century drink called syllabub that combines heavy cream, lemon, and wine.
Across the country, Parks Canada’s National Historic Sites are popular locations for weddings. The most sought-after sites include the Bar U Ranch in southern Alberta; Batoche in Saskatchewan; Manoir-Papineau in Quebec; and the Halifax Citadel in Nova Scotia.
Aside from being a tailor of historical clothing, Black has interpreted both nationally and internationally since 1997. He volunteers regularly at Fort Gibraltar, where he portrays a North West Company partner of 1815.
La France has been re-enacting throughout North America for more than a decade and works as a genealogist at Le Musée de Saint-Boniface in Winnipeg.
Janet La France and Chris Black, standing fourth and fifth from the right, are surrounded by wedding guests and fellow re-enactors, at Maison de Bourgeois, Fort Gibraltar, Winnipeg.