It’s like smoke on your wedding day — How the wedding industry is working around wildfires

Planning an outdoor wedding can be notoriously unpredictable when any number of factors can make or break the big day: The temperature, the wind, the dreaded possibility of rain, and of course, wildfire smoke.

This year, smoke is an increasingly frequent problem couples have to contend with. And with Canada already breaking records in 2023 for the area of ​​land burned, the $5 billion wedding industry has to scramble.

“First COVID basically decimates the events industry, and now we finally get back up and we’re dealing with forest fires,” said Erica Irwin, a wedding planner in Ottawa who’s been in the business for 15 years.

“Tent weddings in general make me nervous because there’s only so much we can do to mitigate any kind of risks or mitigate any kind of weather. But I think now especially … a major piece of it will be tracking when forest fires are the worst and really staying away from outdoor weddings then.”

Canada surpassed the record for area burned by wildfires in a single year Monday as hundreds of fires continued to blaze in almost every province and territory.

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center reported Monday afternoon that 76,129 square kilometers of forest and other land had been burned since Jan. 1. That exceeds the previous record set in 1989 of 75,596 square kilometers, according to the National Forestry Database.

As of Wednesday, the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre’s website showed 487 active fires burning across the country. That same day, Environment Canada released air quality statements for parts of the Northwest Territories and every province outside Atlantic Canada, including large sections of Ontario and Quebec.

WATCH | Smoky skies in Ontario:

Smoky skies return over southern Ontario

The smoke and haze from wildfires are once again impacting air quality in southern Ontario, including in Toronto and Windsor.

Wedding blues in US and Canada

On the online forum Reddit, the “wedding planning” category has been peppered with tips, advice and panicked questions about how to plan for smoke on both sides of the border.

“Is there any hope?” asked one redditor earlier in June, noting that they have family with breathing conditions.

“My dream wedding is tomorrow and is outdoors. We have 200 guests coming,” wrote another person in Philadelphia, noting “the smoke is bad.”

In Toronto, one person tweeted “The air quality in Toronto due to the wildfires is gonna be so bad this whole week, including my wedding day which sounds so selfish but I’m just [sad].”

Another person wrote “rain is apparently good luck on your wedding day, but what about thick clouds of smoke caused by massive Canadian wildfires?”

On June 9, NPR profiled a couple in Washington, DC, who were worried about the thick, orange haze hanging over their wedding that weekend. “The air quality is one of a kind [those] things you never thought you would have to worry about,” said Christina Lamoureux.

A man in a suit kisses a woman in a wedding dress in a field.
A couple kisses at Temple’s Sugar Bush just outside Ottawa on their wedding day. The sun is glowing red because of the wildfire smoke in the sky. (Grey Loft Studio)

‘Always have a plan B’

But Valerie Guerrera, a wedding planner in Montreal, told CBC News that air quality is something wedding planners and couples will likely need to think about even more moving forward.

“It’s nature. You can’t really control it,” she said. “Always have a plan B.”

When looking at wedding venues, Guerrera suggests that couples always make sure there’s an indoor option, just in case. And they should make sure they actually like the look of the indoor option, she says, so they won’t be disappointed if the wedding gets moved, or photos need to be taken inside.

For couples with their hearts set on an outdoor venue, Guerrera suggests they try to picture how it would look on a smoky or cloudy day. “The lighting could affect everything,” she said.

In general, she says her clients have been more reluctant to plan outdoor weddings and pictures because of the wildfire smoke and noted people are booking more indoor venues moving forward.

“They’re already scared of what will happen if there’s more wildfires.”

‘Romantic images’

Ottawa wedding photographer Laine Gustafson told CBC News they’ve had to postpone multiple portrait sessions due to the health impacts of the wildfire smoke. But he also notes that when air quality allows, smoky photos can still be memorable.

“We always encourage our couples to embrace whatever conditions arise during their wedding or engagement session,” Gustafson said. “It’s more authentic to their story, and dramatic weather can make for some of the most memorable and romantic images.”

A man in a beige suit embraces a woman in a wedding dress in front of a bridge, beneath a hazy sky.
A couple embraces on their wedding day in Ottawa beneath a hazy sky on June 16. Extreme weather can add drama and romance to photos, says Gustafson. (Rubicon Photography/@rubiconphotogs)

Still, the smoke has cast a pall on some celebrations. Last weekend, a couple Irwin worked with at a wedding in Montebello, Que., had a clear day for their ceremony, but were “smoked out” the next day, when they’d planned an entire roster of outdoor festivities for their guests.

During another smoky day, Irwin had to cancel a venue tour with a couple flying in from the US, because it wouldn’t have been safe, nor would it have given a fair impression of their location, he said.

While wedding co-ordinators are used to making contingency plans, Irwin says unless your outdoor venue has an indoor option, there’s not much to be done when smoke rolls in.

“Heat is one thing … but now to expect your guests to go out in a tent when the air quality if affected — there’s really nothing for that,” Irwin said.