Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony

Real Weddings: Joju and Ben

Inside a two-day Nigerian-Canadian ceremony

As told to Karoun Chahinian| Photography by Inna Yasinska and ZiggyOnTheLens
| May 4, 2022

Ben Merrill, an Osgoode law student, and Joju Sowemimo, a pediatrician, met while travelling in Greece in August of 2014. The couple dated long distance for the next six years—with Ben in the States and Joju in Canada—before tying the knot this past October in Toronto. Here’s how it all came together.

Joju: Ben and I met at a hostel in Corfu, Greece, where we were both staying. He was tearing it up on the outdoor dance floor and I gravitated towards him. At the time, I was in my first year of medical school in Winnipeg.

Ben: I had just finished my service with the Peace Corps in Cameroon and was about to move to Denver to start my Master’s degree. The night we met, Joju and I danced and talked until five in the morning. I’d met people travelling before, but the connection had never felt so real. Even though I was being eaten alive by mosquitos, I didn’t want to go inside. Our conversation covered all kinds of things—our faith, aspirations, family, love for food—and we made each other laugh. Before we parted ways, we followed each other on Facebook and promised to keep in touch.

Joju: We went from trading messages back and forth every day to calling each other on FaceTime. Six weeks after we met, I flew to Denver to see him.

Ben: There was something between us that felt inherently deep and natural. We committed to a long-distance relationship and took turns flying to Denver or Winnipeg, or we’d meet halfway in Minneapolis.

Joju: In 2017, I moved to Toronto for my residency, and we continued seeing each other. Ben’s my best friend. I can be fully myself around him and I don’t think I’ve ever had that kind of relationship. He really knows me, and he makes every activity so much more enjoyable.

Ben: By early 2019, I knew I wanted to marry Joju and began saving up for a ring. That September, we rented a cabin in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia for a weekend. I had the ring with me and—while we were barbecuing one afternoon—the moment felt right. I asked Joju if she wanted to take a few pictures by the river, propped my phone down, hit record and went down one knee. The words just flowed out of me.

Joju: I had a suspicion he was going to propose on the trip, so I kept looking at his pockets to see if I could spot a ring. I felt his heart racing when he asked to take the photo, and I knew it was about to happen. I was ecstatic.

Ben: Our adrenaline was pumping so it took a while for the moment to fully sink in. Once it did, we started calling our friends and family to celebrate. I began working on getting landed residency in Canada and moved into Joju’s condo in the east end of Toronto. There was a period of adjustment, of course, but living together came naturally because we had built a relationship around communication, trust and love. Everything felt like it was finally lining up. We started looking for venues in the city for a summer 2021 wedding.

Joju: My family is Nigerian, and we really wanted to celebrate our culture. Ben and I agreed that a traditional wedding would be a good way to bring both of our families together. My dad connected us with a wedding planner, Uneku Jegede, who made the whole process so easy, especially since my parents live in Winnipeg and weren’t in town to help out. Ben and I were also planning a Canadian ceremony and reception for the next day. Just before the pandemic hit, we booked a venue in the east end for June 2021. A few months later, the venue closed down.

Ben: When the first lockdowns were loosening up, Joju and I thought about eloping. But we wanted to celebrate with our friends and family—especially after not being able to see them because of the pandemic. We decided to proceed with both wedding celebrations. We booked a downtown venue, Second Floor Events, for our legal ceremony, and Paradise Banquet Hall in Vaughan for the traditional Nigerian wedding, for the fall of 2021. Next came our outfits. We had ordered garments from Nigeria for the traditional ceremony but they didn’t show up as we had expected. They were ill-fitting and the cuts were poorly made. Luckily, we found a West African tailor in town.

Joju: I almost cried when I saw the adjustments. Our tailor had transformed my subpar dress into something gorgeous, plus she fixed the outfits we’d gotten for our parents, bridesmaids and groomsmen.

Ben: On the day of the first ceremony, we got ready at the Radisson Blu. My family flew in from all over the States and Joju’s family and bridesmaids arrived from Winnipeg. We even had some guests make the trip from Europe.

Joju: Everyone loved their traditional wear and it was such a relief to see how much Ben’s family embraced everything. It made it all so much more fun and beautiful. The ceremony in Vaughan involved a lot of dancing and theatrics—a traditional Nigerian wedding is like a little play. We had an emcee narrate the show for our guests. Ben was tasked with convincing my family that he would make a good husband. My family played hard to get and told Ben he wasn’t a satisfactory suitor. After a little back and forth, they gave in. Then we recited a few prayers, served a Nigerian feast for dinner including jollof rice, friend plantains, pepper chicken, stewed beef and egusi soup.

Ben: We spent the night apart—Joju stayed at our place, and I stayed in a hotel with my groomsmen—and then reunited for our Canadian wedding the next evening at Second Floor Events.

Joju: I wore a classic white wedding dress and Ben had on a really nice tuxedo. The second ceremony was simple. The venue had wood floors, big windows looking out onto King Street and string lights along the ceiling. We added simple floral arrangements throughout the space. We hired Gusto 54 to do the catering but we brought in traditional Nigerian food too. It all felt very much like us.

Ben: There was a short legal ceremony with an officiant and then a second reception. I tried my best to really appreciate the special moments, like when Joju was walking down the aisle, our first dance, all the speeches. The night was incredible, and it flew by.

Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony

Joju: I worried that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself because of the stress, but it was such a beautiful weekend. We were so grateful to our wedding planners who brilliantly coordinated both events. It helped us to be present and enjoy the ceremonies as they unfolded.

Ben: These past few years have been a whirlwind. Now, we get to look forward to making the absolute best of the summer. We’re going on trips to see friends and family, and we’ve planned an amazing honeymoon in Portugal and Morocco. We’re looking forward to a life full of new adventures.

Cheat Sheet

Venue: Paradise Banquet Hall, Second Floor Events Catering: Mandy McIsaac, Gusto 54; Adeola Osunbiyi, De Place Catering Wedding planner: Jasmine Carriere, All That Jaz Weddings; Uneku Jegede, Kauna Events Photographer: Inna Yasinska; ZiggyOnTheLens; Archive Studio Toronto Tailor: Beni Boo Styles Florals: Ruth Laurie, Bellwood Blooms Bride’s outfits: Stella York Style 7012; Felichia Bridal; Rose, A and R Bridal Couture Groom’s outfits: Spier and Mackay Music: Eon of The Soul Proprietor Hair and Makeup: Robert Weir; Kenya, Kendolinchair; Nkundi Namposya Guests: 100

Here are some more photos from the weekend
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony

Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony

Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day, Nigerian-Canadian ceremony

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