Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair

Real Weddings: Olu and Elaine

Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair

As told to Jean Grant| PHOTOGRAPHY BY NINO JOVISIC
| November 17, 2020

Olu Onile, an entrepreneur, and Elaine Lewis, a naturopath, met at Revival five years ago. They got engaged last winter and planned to host a destination wedding in Tulum in early 2021. Once Covid hit, they decided to have an intimate ceremony in September, and hosted their immediate family at a property in Grand Bend for a weekend of multi-cultural celebration.

Elaine: Our mutual friend Sanga and his wife, Jackie, introduced us five years ago at Revival near College and Ossington. Sanga, who’s a DJ, used to host massive parties at Toronto clubs, and I loved going to have a fun night out dancing with my girlfriends.

Olu: At the party, I noticed her with friends of mine, and introduced myself. We chatted about what she did for a living, and I found her career as a naturopath fascinating, so I asked for her information. We ended up spending the whole evening hanging out, chatting and dancing.

Elaine: It seemed like he was networking, so I gave him my professional email. As the night progressed and we spent more time together, I gave him my phone number. He texted me the next day to ask me out and I figured the date was harmless, since we had a mutual friend. Plus, he seemed like a nice, friendly guy. We went to Turtle Jacks in Mississauga to watch the Raptors, which is always my play on first dates. I’m a big Raptors fan, so I figure if the conversation wasn’t going well at least there would be something fun to watch.

Olu: We talked about everything: our interests, our careers, other mutual friends we didn’t know we had in common, our families and our upbringings. We realized there were so many times our paths could’ve crossed in the past. During the date, neither of us watched the game at all. We didn’t even know the score until the game was over.

Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair

Elaine: I’m not usually someone who likes to share too much too soon, but we talked about our families right off the bat. I was intrigued, and thought, There’s something about this guy. We were inseparable after that.

Olu: In December 2019, I planned an elaborate lie for our engagement. I told her I was travelling to Nigeria for three weeks to see my family. I had her drop me off at the airport, and I spent the night at my mom’s house. The next day, I had a friend wake her with a bouquet of roses and a hand-written note and convince her to get in the car for something special. I assumed she’d clue in right away that I was going to propose.

Elaine: I was sad he was going to be away for so long, especially at Christmas. I assumed he planned a beautiful day at the spa to make me feel better.

Olu: I had chartered a private plane to fly us to Niagara. But it was the middle of December and there was a sheet of ice covering the runway that morning. No planes were going anywhere.

Elaine: I met him at Million Air airport in Markham and he proposed in a private lounge overlooking the runway. I was in shock and can’t remember what Olu actually said as he was getting down on one knee. I happily said yes, and the rest was a big blur. Then we spent the day at the Distillery District Christmas Market. We knew we wanted a relatively small wedding, but we both have big extended families. We started planning for spring 2021, and had about 200 people on our guest list.

Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair

Olu: I always loved the idea of a destination wedding where we could build memories with our families. For me, marriage is about the joining of two families, not just the two of us. We assumed some people might not be able to come, but everyone was super-keen. We booked a location-scouting trip to Tulum for March 2020. It was right before all the travel restrictions came into play, and we cancelled last minute.

Elaine: It was a blessing in disguise, because I’m sure we would have fallen in love with a place, booked it and lost money later on.

Olu: We knew early on that it would be a couple years before we could host our dream wedding because of Covid. So we used the pandemic as an excuse to do something smaller with just our immediate family, with plans for a bigger reception once restrictions are lifted. We wanted a location that was big enough to sleep everyone, and luckily our friend Jackie’s parents own a house in Grand Bend, with a huge backyard and big deck set against a backdrop of forest.

Elaine: They were so generous to offer their home to us. It felt like our relationship had come full circle, because Jackie introduced us. We ended up only inviting 15 guests—immediate family and a couple of close friends on either side.

Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair

Olu: I’m Nigerian, and it was important to my family—especially my mom—to have a traditional ceremony. Traditionally before a Nigerian wedding the mother of the groom presents both families with gifts, usually clothing made from traditional Nigerian fabrics. If there wasn’t a pandemic, my mom would have flown to England or Nigeria to get custom-made pieces for everyone. But since we couldn’t fly anywhere, she sewed everyone’s outfits herself. She had to watch YouTube videos to figure it out. I begged her not to bother but she was determined.

Elaine: She’s a superwoman. She made outfits by hand not just for his family, but for my whole family as well. I found my wedding dress in the early months of the pandemic, when my maid of honour took me to look at dresses to get me in a bridal mood. We went to David’s Bridal, and as soon as I tried on my first dress, a blush off-the-shoulder gown, I knew it was the one. I ended up bringing my mom in a few days later and pretending I hadn’t been in there already. Luckily, my mom liked the dress too. The waterworks started once the veil went on.

On the night before our wedding day, we wanted to incorporate elements from both of our cultures in a special dinner for our families. We looked at this dinner as a merging of our two traditions, Nigerian and Indian. Both of our families gave us blessings—it was really sentimental with lots of tears. I wore my mom’s wedding sari. It was meaningful to me, especially since my parents would celebrate their 40th anniversary the day after our wedding.

Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair

Elaine: Olu’s sister Nike is a designer, and styled the whole weekend. We wanted it to feel intimate, romantic and steeped in our traditions. She decorated with lots of jasmine flowers, which my mom imported from India. Jasmines are integral to Indian weddings; the bride wears them in her hair, and I always associate the smell with weddings. On the Friday night we had both traditional Nigerian and Indian ceremonies.

Olu: In Nigeria, the groom’s family approaches the bride’s family with gifts, and asks for the bride’s hand in marriage. The bride’s side plays hard to get and, at the end, they accept the groom’s offer and everyone comes together to eat and pray. It felt like we were merging our families in an official way.

Elaine: Our cultures actually have a lot of similarities in the ceremonies. Eating food on banana leaves is important in Indian culture, and Olu told me that’s something that’s common in Nigeria too. Everyone on Olu’s side wore Nigerian outfits, and everyone on my side wore Indian outfits. A little later in the evening, Olu’s mom and sister helped me change into the Nigerian outfit they had made. On the Saturday, I had booked a nearby hotel room to get ready. I thought I would miss my girlfriends who couldn’t be invited and ended up on six Zoom calls with different groups. It felt like my friends were there getting ready with me. The ceremony was at 3 p.m.

Olu:  I was staying in the house and it was chaotic with all the preparations. The day of the wedding, I took some time in my room to reflect and read the notes on our website from friends and family who couldn’t be there. Once the music started and I walked out, everything hit me all at once. I got pretty emotional. In five and a half years, Elaine had never seen me cry—well, except during painful moments watching The Bachelor. I just turned to mush.

Elaine: My dad was also mush. I walked down the aisle to an instrumental piano and violin piece. Nike did such a beautiful job decorating, and I didn’t see the whole setup until I was walking down the aisle. It was an intimate and simple ceremony—exactly the vibe we were going for. We wrote our own vows and incorporated a Bible passage, which was important to us and our families.

Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair

Olu: I set up a livestream of the ceremony for our family and friends to watch. We loved that they were fully dressed up watching in their homes. Some of Elaine’s cousins in England even wore fascinators. Everything just seemed to flow. The wind rustled the trees at the perfect moments.

After the ceremony, Nike set up an amazing dinner table, with branches from the surrounding woods, plenty of jasmine and a bunch of twinkling lights above us. The mood was so romantic and intimate. My brother is a chef, and he made all our meals that weekend. The dinner was a fusion of Nigerian, Indian and Western dishes. Because we had such a small party, everyone spoke, and there were tears all around. I couldn’t imagine getting married any other way.

Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair

Elaine: The mood was beautiful. Every time the wind blew, we’d catch a whiff of the jasmine above us. We didn’t need outdoor heaters because the entire weekend was a balmy 25 degrees.

Olu: After dinner, we had more drinks, cut the cake and danced. The evening wrapped up around midnight, and we went to a hotel nearby, which had private access to the beach. The next morning we came back to the house, and had a lunch to celebrate Elaine’s parents’ 40th anniversary. Then we jetted off on our honeymoon in B.C. the next day.

Elaine: We felt an outpouring of love that weekend. We felt so cared for, especially with Olu’s mom making us all outfits, his brother cooking for us and everyone making spontaneous speeches at dinner. It felt like more than just a wedding—it truly was the fusion of two families. It created a high for us that carried into the honeymoon.

NEVER MISS A TORONTO LIFE STORY

Sign up for The Vault, our free newsletter with unforgettable long reads from our archives.

By signing up, you agree to our terms of use and privacy policy.
You may unsubscribe at any time.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Cheat Sheet

Date: September 26, 2020 Photographer: Nino Jovisic Planner/designer: Nike Onile Bride’s outfit: White by Vera Wang Hair and makeup: Cierra Lee Catering: Sanmi Onile Guests: 15

Here are some more photos from the day:
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair
Real Weddings: Inside a two-day Nigerian-Indian backyard affair

NEVER MISS A TORONTO LIFE STORY

Sign up for The Vault, our free newsletter with unforgettable long reads from our archives.

By signing up, you agree to our terms of use and privacy policy.
You may unsubscribe at any time.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Big Stories

These are Toronto’s best new restaurants of 2024
Food & Drink

These are Toronto’s best new restaurants of 2024