Real Weddings: Vivien and Terrence

Inside a backyard wedding in Willowdale

Vivien Li, an interior designer, met Terrence Li, an industrial designer, in 2014. They were engaged in September 2020 and planned a wedding for nine months later. Here’s how it all came together.

—As told to Jessica Lee 


Vivien: We met at a New City Baptist Church event in 2014. A mutual friend introduced us, and we started talking about design. I was at Ryerson studying interior design at the time, so I was really busy and wasn’t thinking about dating.

Terrence: When we were talking, she was very attentive and looked me in the eye. She wasn’t distracted by anything else, and I thought that was very attractive.

Vivien: In 2017, I started working downtown at an architecture firm, and we would bump into each other on the subway frequently commuting to work. They were long commutes, so we really got to know each other. I thought he was friendly and easy to talk to, and he asked really great questions about my life.

Terrence: In January 2019, on the day of a snowstorm, we were at a mutual friend’s birthday dinner at Pai. I had wanted to ask her out that day, but we were stuck in traffic for six hours on the way home and by the time I dropped her off at her place, it was 3 a.m. We were both really tired but I went ahead with my plan anyway, and luckily she said yes.

In September 2020, I proposed in Riverdale Park, where we had spent a lot of time together. I designed a custom ring box out of sanded plywood and asked two friends to hide in the trees with cameras to capture the moment.

Photograph by Hannah Belvedere Photography

Vivien: We started planning for the wedding two months later during the second wave, which made things hard to predict. At that point, we thought there would be fewer restrictions by the summer of 2021. Still, we decided on an outdoor wedding to be safe. We looked at different venues and decided to have a backyard wedding at a family friend’s home in Willowdale that could fit 150 people.

Terrence: We were hoping to get married by June, because I didn’t want to wait any longer.

Vivien: I managed to go to David’s Bridal a week before everything closed down again and bought a dress I didn’t really love. I was panicked because it was one of the last times I could try anything on. A few weeks later, on Black Friday, I bought a dress off Etsy that I had been eyeing for a while and I returned the first dress.

Photograph by Hannah Belvedere Photography

Terrence: In March, the restrictions suddenly changed to an unlimited number of guests for outdoor ceremonies. At that point, we upped our guest list to 70 people. Then in April, everything went back into lockdown again. Suddenly we had to cut our guest list to 10 people. After our parents, we were left with spots for our pastor who would marry us, our wedding planner, our photographer and our live-streamer. Half our bridal party would watch from the neighbour’s backyard, and the other half would watch from home via YouTube Live.

Vivien: We became more and more anxious. In late April, the province announced a three-step re-opening, so we made two plans: one for a 10-person wedding with a drive-through reception and another for a wedding with fewer restrictions.

Terrence: There was a Salvation Army church with lots of space for cars near our backyard venue. We asked the church if we could use their space, and they said yes.

Vivien: We both broke down at some point during the planning. I cried a couple of times. Then, the tides turned. Five days before our wedding, I started receiving messages from friends that the province was loosening their restrictions again. Now, we were able to have as many guests as we wanted outdoors as long as they were able to maintain social distance. I didn’t quite believe it and didn’t want to my hopes up.

Terrence: When we realized we could have a larger wedding again, we were overwhelmed with gratitude. We scrambled and replanned our wedding once again, re-inviting guests. I made a floor plan with a 3-D program I use for work called SolidWorks to make sure we had enough space in the backyard to maintain adequate social distancing.

Vivien: Our vendors were flexible with our two plans and there were no bumps in the road to change our wedding from 10 guests to 80. We needed more chairs, more decorations, drinks and a tent in case the weather didn’t hold up. We also received unexpected gifts from my dad’s friends and our photographer, who offered to capture our day for free. Our livestreamer and videographer gave us a heavily discounted rate. Another friend offered to do my dress alterations for free and Terrence’s friend offered to do all the alterations for the groomsmen at a discounted rate. We bought them all gift cards as a thank you.

Terrence: We started setting everything up two days before the ceremony. When everything came together, it was so perfect.

Vivien: The wedding day was very beautiful and simple. I liked walking down the aisle and dancing back up again after getting married.

Photograph by Hannah Belvedere Photography

Terrence: It was pretty surreal. The weather cooperated, and seeing all the guests trickle in was very special. I hadn’t seen so many people in one place for a long time, and I really appreciated being able to celebrate with everyone we knew. After the wedding, people hung around to chat. It was the first time many of our guests had seen others in person in many months. I introduced my new bride to friends who hadn’t met her yet. Then, Vivien and I had an impromptu Korean take-out dinner after everything got torn down.

Vivien: While we were planning the wedding, my dad told us to not worry, that we would have the 50 guests we wanted. We were all very skeptical but he was so hopeful, and in the end, we had 80 of our closest friends and family attend. For our honeymoon, we went to a friend’s cottage on Little Lake Joseph, near Rosseau, for a week. We’re planning on a casual dinner reception in late August or early September in the same backyard as the wedding, if restrictions ease further. We’re hoping to have dancing, music and speeches.

Cheat Sheet

Guests: 80
Catering: Chau Toronto
Decor: Vincent Events Rental, Nayos
Florals and favours: Thyme Studio, Sally Chau
Videography: Archive Weddings
Photography: Hannah Belvedere Photography, Jessica Lee
Planner: Gracious Beginnings

Here are some more photos from the day

Photograph by Hannah Belvedere Photography

Photograph by Hannah Belvedere Photography