Real Weddings: Shilbee and Adil

Inside a multi-day bash on Wasan Island in Muskoka

Adil Dhalla, a community organizer at Reset, met Shilbee Kim, a passion coach who works with entrepreneurs and community leaders, at a job interview in 2013. They started dating two years later, and in January of 2020 Kim proposed. The couple had planned a ceremony at Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park, but after three postponements, they switched gears and organized a weekend on a private island two hours north of Toronto. Here’s how their traditional-with-a-twist wedding came together.

Adil: I met Shilbee when she applied for a role at my workplace, the Centre for Social Innovation. Two years later, we attended an event where Shilbee shared a story about her parents immigrating to Canada from South Korea and managing a convenience store. When my family moved here from Tanzania, their first business was a convenience store. After the event, we walked home together and talked about our families’ similar trajectories.

Shilbee: Our first date was in May of 2015. It was a Hot Docs screening of My Love, Don’t Cross That River, a South Korean documentary that follows an elderly couple during the final months of their marriage.

Adil: We had a fun string of dates that summer. I brought Shilbee to the Communist’s Daughter for live music, and we also attended some great community events with food and music in Regent Park.

Shilbee: We also went on a work trip to New York. There was a small group of us on the bus ride there and Adil made sure everyone was comfortable. I watched him care for those around him and it made me want to take care of him. Adil is very kind and he’s constantly showing up for people. He’s very empathetic and consistently genuine.

Adil: Shilbee is one of the most passionate people I know, and she’s deeply committed to justice and family. I knew quite early on that I wanted to marry her but when we talked about marriage she said she was unsure if it was something she’d do. So I told her I wouldn’t ask, but if getting married was something she would ever be interested in, she could ask me instead.

Shilbee: In December of 2018, we moved into a one-bedroom apartment in a house on Geary Avenue. About a year later, Adil went for a 10-day Vipassana silent meditation course, and the time alone made me realize that I wanted to commit to marriage. A friend helped me plan a three-part proposal; we wanted it to be fun and playful. On the day of, we took Adil to one of the Centre’s offices in the Annex, which we had decorated with momentos and curated a soundtrack of our relationship. Then, we sat down and had a visioning session to imagine what our lives together would look like. The third part was the proposal itself, which happened on the rooftop at sunset.

Adil: When I walked into the building, I saw the picnic basket where we store the little notes and cards we’ve written to each other over the years. That’s when I realized Shilbee was going to propose. I was shook, in the best way. I love whimsical experiences and being surprised, and I didn’t see it coming. The effort and thoughtfulness was so romantic.

Shilbee: I didn’t want to ask the traditional question, so we intentionally designed it to be a collaborative proposal. We ended up with a value statement rather than a question.

Adil: Shilbee and I wanted to commit to our core values, which are love and peace. We ended up with “sarang salama.” Sarang means love in Korean and salama means peace in Swahili and Arabic. We said sarang salama to each other, and then we were engaged.

Shilbee: We had previously used grapes as a tool to teach consent in a workshop so there was a lot of symbolism for us in them. I decided not to get a ring, and we fed each other grapes as a form of our commitment to each other instead.

Adil: We started planning our wedding right away. It was going to be a 400-person event at Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park in November of 2020. We envisioned something like a community festival with loads of events, including a talent show, public art installations and a food market with local vendors. When Covid happened, we had to re-imagine the event three times but luckily never sent out invites.

Shilbee: In the summer of 2021, we decided it would be better to take a different approach. We landed on a three-day wedding in October with 42 overnight guests.

Adil: The weekend before our wedding we had a mehndi and mandvo ceremony at my family’s home in Leaside to honour our culture and families. There were 25 people—our siblings, parents, aunts and uncles. Some people had mehndi done and we performed other rituals in our own way. For example, there’s an Indian tradition where the engaged couple compete to step on clay bowls and the tradition is whoever breaks it first is the “boss” of the house. We decided to step on it at the same time.

Shilbee: In the days before the wedding, we dropped off rapid tests to our guests. We also invited people to curate experiences on the island in lieu of traditional gifts, which made our wedding playful and collaborative.

Adil: Our family formed a welcoming committee as people arrived on the island by boat. They had signs and a little dance party for everyone as they showed up.

Shilbee: Some of our friends organized a sisters’ circle for the morning of the wedding, which everyone was invited to attend. We did some dancing, breathwork and played games to feel connected. They also gave us a book filled with insights and wisdom about love from some of the people who weren’t able to attend.

Adil: Other friends wrote a song about saunas, and we sang it as we walked down to one by the water where we did hot and cold plunges.

Shilbee: On the day of, I didn’t want to wear white at my wedding, so I chose a sparkly black rental from the Fitzroy instead.

Adil: I rocked a bowtie and suspenders I purchased at Courage My Love and Gypsy Found Objects in Toronto. I also wore a plush black jacket that had belonged to my grandmother to honour her memory.

Shilbee: The ceremony was rooted in some of our core values: play, passion, justice and freedom. We had bubble people instead of flower girls, we walked down the aisle together, and our Celebrant created a song around a quote from The Alchemist. Our family put together all the decor. There were banners that said sarang salama, bows and paper lanterns.

Adil: We read our vows and continued our tradition by feeding each other grapes. Then, Shilbee and I danced to Louis Armstrong’s version of “La Vie en rose,” our favourite song.

Shilbee: After the commitment ceremony, there was some downtime followed by a reception and dinner in the dining hall, and a dance party.

Adil: During the reception, our friends surprised us with a flash mob. The dance party had a lot of ’90s and 2000s hits. The last song that played was “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston, and everyone formed a circle around us and sang it together. The Wasan Island team put out noodles and pizza around 10:30 p.m. Some people went to bed while others stayed up and did the sauna/hot tub/cold-plunge circuit.

Shilbee: The next day was our final event, the paebaek ceremony. It’s an ancient Korean custom where we wear traditional hanboks and bow to our parents and our siblings. We wanted to honour the traditions and remix some of it as well. For example, the groom usually piggybacks the bride around the room. I wanted to do that too, so I also gave Adil a piggyback. Another ritual is that you throw dates at the bride and groom and however many dates we catch represents how many children we’ll have. Instead, we took it to symbolize the amount of love we have for each other.

Adil Most of our guests left on Monday, but Shilbee and I stayed until Tuesday so we could have an extra night just for us. The whole weekend was an experience for us to realign our value systems.

Shilbee: I love that we got to examine and affirm some wedding traditions and changed others to better reflect who we are.

Cheat Sheet

Date: October 11, 2021
Officiant: Mathura Mahendren
Photography: Kevin Fung, Codrin Tabala
Catering: Chef Alyssa Becker, The Host
Cake: Fresh Treats Online
Hair and Makeup: Christina Bezgian, Gina Marie, Sharon Ko, Chanel Ko
Mehndi: Nafeesa Lalani, Noureen Lalani
Bride’s outfits: Sahiba Fashion, Cecilia, The Fitzroy
Groom’s outfits: Manyavar Mohey, Karizma Collection and Boutique, Gypsy Found Objects, Courage My Love, Hippie Market
Venue: Wasan Island
Guests: 42

Here are some more photos from the weekend