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Our big summer wedding was postponed by the pandemic, so we had an intimate backyard ceremony with a homemade Caribbean feast

By Andrea Yu| Photography by Michael Thomas
Our big summer wedding was postponed by the pandemic, so we had an intimate backyard ceremony with a homemade Caribbean feast

Omarie Fabian, a TTC operator, and Jennifer Thomas-Haywood, an assistant funeral director, met in 2013, when they were both working at a clothing store. Five years later, Omarie proposed and they had their July 2020 wedding planned to a tee a year in advance. When Covid hit, they were forced to cancel their 175-person celebration. Instead, they decided to host an intimate backyard ceremony followed by a Caribbean feast with close friends and family. Here’s how their reworked wedding came together.

Omarie: I was born in Antigua and moved to Toronto when I was 10. I met Jen in the summer of 2013. I was the assistant manager at a Mark’s in the east end and Jen was a sales associate who transferred from a different location.

Jennifer: I was born and raised in East York. I had a friend who worked with Omarie, and I heard that he had a reputation for being a tough guy. He was the kind of manager you couldn’t slack off around. He also didn’t like to socialize while he was working, but I was determined to crack through the shell. On my first day, I saw Omarie putting some things up on a ladder and I made a comment about his unsafe work practices as a joke.

Omarie: At first, I was like, The audacity of this new girl. She was very ballsy but eventually we got along. I’ve always found Jen so easy to talk to. She’s able to go toe-to-toe with me. If I make a sassy comment, she’ll come back really quick with a sassy reply.

Jennifer: Omarie has a bright, inviting, very handsome smile. And even though he had that tough guy reputation, you could see the softness and kindness. I was hosting a party at my place just after New Year’s Day in 2014, so I got Omarie’s number and invited him over.

Our big summer wedding was postponed by the pandemic, so we had an intimate backyard ceremony with a homemade Caribbean feast

Omarie: I didn’t end up going to the party, but we started talking and developed a friendship. I got a feeling that there could be something more. I tend to feed off of people’s energies and I was getting good vibes from her. So I asked her out to dinner on the day before Valentine’s Day.

Jennifer: I thought we were two friends going out for food. But when I showed up, he surprised me with a heart-shaped box of Lindor milk chocolates. At first I thought, This is escalating quickly. But at the same time, he was very gentlemanly and sweet for taking the time to get a little token of appreciation.

Omarie: From there, we fell into a relationship.

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Our big summer wedding was postponed by the pandemic, so we had an intimate backyard ceremony with a homemade Caribbean feast

Jennifer: He did a lot of sweet things for me early in our relationship. For example, he asked me what my perfect date would be. Not too long after, he packed a cute little basket with snacks and we ended up at Ward’s Island for a picnic on the beach.

Omarie: At the time, I lived in an apartment in Don Mills but eventually I was spending more time at Jen’s place than in my own home.

Jennifer: I live in the basement apartment of my mom’s house, which is also the home I grew up in. I was worried about my mom meeting him because she’s opinionated. But now she loves him more than I do! Anytime there’s a disagreement, it’s my mom and Omarie versus me.

Omarie: I moved into Jen’s basement apartment in November 2016. By the summer of 2018, we were talking about getting married and went ring shopping. On a day trip to Niagara, we stopped at Michael Hill. She tried on a ring there that we both really liked and I got it.

Jennifer: When he saw it on my finger, he cried.

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Our big summer wedding was postponed by the pandemic, so we had an intimate backyard ceremony with a homemade Caribbean feast

Omarie: Jen doesn’t like surprises, but I still wanted to do a proper proposal. She always said to make sure she’d have her nails done when I proposed. A mutual friend was studying photography at Humber College so I got him to pretend he had a school project about couples and he wanted to shoot us at the Aga Khan Museum. It was a place Jen and I loved because the grounds are beautiful.

Jennifer: I didn’t think anything of it because the photographer had asked other couples we know, too. So I thought, This’ll be cute. Omarie and I will get some nice photos of us all dressed up. As I was telling my friends about it, one of them said, “Oh, dude, he’s definitely gonna propose.” And then when he did, I was like, Ah, fuck. There were tears on both sides. We had a nice little photoshoot after as well. It was a cold day in November 2018, but it was really nice.

Jennifer: We got to planning our wedding right away. I was very gung-ho about it. We were getting checklists, looking at venues, attending wedding shows and trying to figure out how we were going to pay for everything. I was pretty organized.

Omarie: We ended up booking a venue on the Danforth called the Forth for July 11.

Jennifer: I was super nervous about things getting booked up so we had our wedding planned by July 2019. There were going to be 175 people. We had a lot of people coming in from overseas. My mom’s family is from Jamaica but immigrated to England. We both had a lot of family in the U.K., Antigua and the U.S. who would have been flying in for the wedding.

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Omarie: When Covid hit in early March, I was still hopeful. I thought the outbreak would be over fairly quickly. But once the borders shut down, that was the sign that our wedding was not going to happen—that was the gut punch.

Jennifer: We had family telling us they weren’t going to be able to make it. And a lot of our families are older, so they’re in the high-risk category. So in early May, I sent out an email to cancel the wedding. I wasn’t sad. I was angry because of all of the work that we put into it and because we’d been looking forward to it for so long. I was also frustrated, but at the end of the day, safety comes first. Then, I was worried about our deposits too but our vendors were all super accommodating and we were able to rebook everything for July 10, 2021.

Our big summer wedding was postponed by the pandemic, so we had an intimate backyard ceremony with a homemade Caribbean feast

Omarie: Not long after we cancelled, we thought about getting married on our original wedding date. If we could still get a marriage licence, we decided we would do it for ourselves and not tell our friends or family since the government would only allow gatherings of five people.

Jennifer: Some regions started opening up applications for marriage licences on June 10, but Toronto wasn’t issuing them at the time so I ended up making an appointment in Mississauga on June 26. Around that time, the city increased the limit for weddings and funerals to 50 people, so we decided to have a small backyard wedding and sent an email out to 20 close friends and family.

Omarie: We thought we’d do a casual ceremony followed by a barbecue. But things escalated quickly. We ended up scrapping the barbecue and decided to do a Caribbean family meal at a long banquet table. We wanted it to be fun and enjoyable but not stressful and not too much work.

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Jennifer: Our officiant, who was the pastor from my childhood church, was still available to marry us on our original date. We set the ceremony for 2 p.m. The pastor actually let us borrow the chairs from the church, and we purchased some folding tables and a lot of decor items, like an arch, tablecloths and plates, from Amazon. We bought a couple gazebos from Canadian Tire for shade, too.

Omarie: The forecast was stormy, so it’s a good thing we had the gazebos. I was bitter about the weather when I started putting stuff together in the backyard around 8 a.m. It was drizzling, which I could deal with. Then it started to come down harder and I was not happy about it. Around 12 p.m., I looked in the distance and I saw blue skies coming. I ran inside and yelled “The skies are clearing! The skies are clearing!” From that moment, my whole attitude changed. I was like, This is going to happen. It’s gonna be okay.

Jennifer: I wanted to save the dress I bought for our big ceremony next summer. I tried buying a few dresses online from Lulus.com and Fashion Nova but they did not work out. Omarie suggested I try on some dresses at David’s Bridal. I put on a sparkly dress and I was sold.

Omarie: Originally I was going to have a burgundy suit made for the wedding. But that hasn’t happened because of Covid. So the Thursday before, I went to Zara at the Eaton Centre and bought a suit in the same colour.

Jennifer: We had a lot of hand sanitizer out and masks available, but most people brought their own masks. People were pretty good at splitting themselves up, so people in the same households sat together. We to keep our numbers small, so we didn’t hire an outside photographer. My cousin works in broadcast TV and is familiar with photography. He did it for free, which helped with our budget, too.

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Omarie: My parents aren’t together anymore. My mom is still in Antigua, and the fact that she couldn’t be there was weighing on my mind a bit. But my dad was there, and my mom got to watch through a video chat on Facebook Messenger. I realized that the important thing was getting married and she can come to the party next year.

Our big summer wedding was postponed by the pandemic, so we had an intimate backyard ceremony with a homemade Caribbean feast

Jennifer: I did my hair and makeup myself, and I love how it turned out. The dress was perfect. The pastor talked about how I’ve been a member of his church since childhood and how he came to know Omarie. I cried a little bit. He cried more. It was everything that I imagined it would be.

Omarie: With all the anticipation building up and so many uncertainties like not knowing if it was going to happen, I felt a big sense of relief when it did. I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day. After the ceremony, I gave a short speech, and then we set up the tables for food.

Jennifer: My mom cooked everything. We had bought all the groceries a few days before and my mom woke up at 5 a.m. to begin her prep. We had rice and peas, white rice, oxtail, curry goat, salad and fish fritters. They’re staples at our family gatherings. We had everything set up outside alongside a cooler with drinks. It was a pretty relaxed, chill vibe. There was reggae music playing. Everyone had a great time.

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Omarie: After the ceremony ended, it started to rain again, but thankfully we had the gazebos out. It was a very laid-back day. It was intimate and that’s what made it a lot more special.

Jennifer: Things started to wind down around 6 p.m. We packed up and went inside, watched TV and hung out just like any other day.

Omarie: I was still on a natural high.

Jennifer: He was smiling from ear to ear all day. I’ve never seen him so happy. It was a good day. It felt like a huge weight lifted off. And now we can focus on the future.

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