Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade

Real Weddings: Hayley and Scott

Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade

As told to Jean Grant| Photography by Stephanie Foden
| December 4, 2020

Scott Baker, a filmmaker, and Hayley Lapalme, a non-profit director, met in 2008 at a mutual friend’s home on the Bruce Peninsula while they were both studying at McGill. They originally planned a 160-person camp-style wedding outside the city for May 2020, but after Covid forced them to cancel, they decided to host their Toronto friends for an equally outdoorsy ceremony by the Don River this summer.

Hayley: Scott and I met when we were both in undergrad at McGill. During the summer before fourth year, I visited a good friend of mine, Adam, at his home in the Bruce Peninsula. Scott, who was also close friends with Adam, had been on an exchange in New Zealand for the previous year and showed up unannounced after driving across the country. Though we shared Adam as a best friend, Scott and I somehow were never in the same place at the same time before that weekend.

Scott: I was just going to stay for the night, but then I heard Adam and Hayley planned to go sailing on Georgian Bay for the next week, so I weaselled my way into the trip. I was immediately drawn to Hayley. We had similar energy and zest for life. We’re both curious people who want to learn about and engage with the world.

Hayley: There was definitely an energetic pull for me as well. Scott is someone who devours life. He has the brightest eyes and these big crows’ feet from how much he smiles. He’s also one of the most generous people I’ve ever met.

Scott: The weekend was wonderful, but Hayley was leaving for an exchange semester at a research station in Barbados. So we became pen pals, and over the next few months I got to know her intellect and wit through emails and letters.

Hayley: When Scott and I both returned to Montreal after Christmas, after months of anticipation, we spent a whole day together, which turned into a week and then a number of weeks. We’ve been together now for about 12 years. We broke up a couple times along the way but we were always drawn back to each other.

Scott: After graduation, we navigated some long distance, while both trying to find meaningful work in the same city. Hayley did a Master’s program in leadership and adult education that brought her back to Toronto in 2013, and I moved there in 2014 for a fellowship at the MaRS Discovery District. I decided to propose in March of 2019. Hayley was in Ottawa for a conference, and I suggested meeting her there for the weekend to do something for her birthday. I convinced her to play hooky on the Friday afternoon and go cross-country skiing through Gatineau Park. I kept trying to find an appropriate lookout point to propose.

Hayley: He made us ski off the trail, up the side of a hill. I was getting hangry and wanted to stop for snacks.

Scott: We eventually found a spot. I dug around in the backpack, ostensibly looking for the granola bars, but instead I took out the ring and proposed. She tried to say yes, but was crying. I pulled out a bottle of champagne, which we finished together. Then we had a really wonderful sunset ski through the Gatineau hills.

Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade

Hayley: It was the most euphoric cross-country ski we’ve ever had. Eventually, we decided on a weekend camp-style wedding in May 2020. We planned to do a big 160-guest party at Ganaraska Forest Centre in Campbellcroft, a place where we love to go mountain biking.

Scott: Everything had been thoroughly mapped out by March.

Hayley: Then we started seeing what was happening with Covid. Pretty early on, we started questioning whether we were going to be able to go ahead with our original plan. We officially cancelled in early April. Ultimately it was an easy call to make, but I allowed myself one day to be completely heartbroken. We started planning a second big wedding for October, but that quickly fell through as well.

Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade

Scott: We had no idea how long this pandemic was going to last. So we decided to take the timeline into our own hands and do something small.

Hayley: We needed to embrace the moment and go into our Covid-scaled wedding wholeheartedly. We called it our “Coronacoaster micro-wedding.” We invited our parents and friends who lived in Toronto. We still wanted to get married in the forest, and since we do lots of biking in the Don Valley, we decided to find a place alongside the river for the ceremony.

Scott: Our grandparents, my sister and some of our best friends from out of town weren’t going to be able to come. That was the biggest reckoning we had to deal with.

Hayley: The morning of the wedding, Scott cycled me down to my hair appointment on his handlebars. At 10 a.m., all the guys attending the wedding, including the two dads biked over to the Don River Valley Park, which is 20 kilometres away, to set up the ceremony site. My girlfriends, our moms and I did the same ride a couple hours later. We arrived to a beautiful sight in the forest: the guys had made a walkway for me our of golden maple leaves and a tarp dressing room with a mirror and buckets of water where I could change into my wedding dress.

A lot of people told us that their wedding day flew by, so we wanted to make sure we created an opportunity to slow down and be present. When we arrived at the Don, we each had a friend host circles for the men and women, where our parents and friends could share their experiences and insights about love. Then we had the ceremony, which was officiated by one of our best friends, Chris, who is a scientist and poet. My sister, my maid of honour, worked with our grandparents to get letters from them that were incorporated into the ceremony. It was important to us to have them represented, and they were Zoomed in, along with Scott’s sister. Our 25 guests lounged on picnic blankets in their respective Covid bubbles, and we hired a cellist to play lots of Bach—along with some Beyoncé. My Dad walked me down the aisle to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major. Our friends did the catering, and after the ceremony we snacked on watermelon-basil salad, homemade baba ghanouj, hummus and pita. We hung out in the forest for a few hours before doing a big bike ride back to our place.

Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade

Scott: It was like A Midsummer Night’s Dream. People were lounging on the blankets and sleeping in each others’ arms. We turned it up a notch when it was time to bike home. I rented a large battery-operated speaker, and we strapped it to the front of my brother-in-law’s bike and played everything from really loud Reggaeton to classic Whitney Houston. Adam played DJ as we rode through the Don Park, through Cabbagetown, the Village and home to the Annex, bringing a party to everyone on the street. It was a hot day in July, just when some life was starting to come back to the city after the first few months of quarantine. There was so much fun energy—people were so stoked to see a parade.

Hayley: I knew Scott’s vision for the bike parade would be fun, but it was truly surreal. People everywhere were dancing and waving and biking alongside us. Cars slowed down and filmed out the window, and people were hanging out of apartment buildings. It felt like this moment of joy when we remembered to celebrate despite all the heaviness, grief and loss in the world.

Scott: My favourite moment was seeing our parents biking along with all our friends, having so much fun. As we went through through Christie Pits, “Graceland” came on, and it was a really special moment. Even after making our friends ride 40 kilometres that day, some shouted for an extra lap before arriving to our place.

Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade

Hayley: We live in an apartment on the second story of a house near Christie Pits, so we converted our shared backyard parking area into a socially distanced dinner space. Our dads spent an afternoon weeding the parking lot, and we hung strings of lights and ribbon archways we had made. Our immediate neighbours pitched in with flowers, decorations and fencing, while many of our laneway neighbours came by during the set-up to wish us well after we dropped off little flyers letting them know we were planning a Covid wedding. It meant a lot to us.

Scott: Friends of ours made Covid-safe, individually portioned Momofuku-inspired meals for us of pork shoulder and braised beef lettuce wraps with rice and pickled veggies. They even made individual cocktails served in freezie tubes. For dessert, we had homemade blueberry-basil ice cream and a wedding cake made by my mom and sister. Each table sat one couple. We arrived around sunset, listened to a few speeches and chilled out some more.

Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade

Hayley: The night wrapped up after a long, late dinner. Any energy I had left was drained by laugh-crying so hard when my sister roasted me in her speech. I think we were all exhausted. There’s a line I love, which is, “The grass is greener where you water it.” When I look back on the wedding now, that line applies not only to our relationship, but also our choice to embrace a Covid wedding. By the time we were in the middle of the ceremony, Scott and I we felt this connection to each other that we didn’t expect. We both realized this Coronacoaster celebration gave us everything we didn’t know we needed.

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Cheat Sheet:

Date: July 25, 2020 Flowers: The Rose Emporium Cellist: Kendra Grittani Photography: Stephanie Foden Officiant: Judi Clayton Beer: Burdock Brewery Hair: Parlour Ossington Guests: 25

Here are some more photos from the day:
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade
Real Weddings: Inside an intimate Don River celebration with a 20-kilometre bike parade

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