Winnipeg, Manitoba – March 16, 1974

When I awoke at seven it was still dark and Pat had already left for the airstrip on St. Mary’s Road. It was -22.7 Celsius with a wind chill factor of -34.8 and scattered cloud. Pat had to crouch under JZV with a blow pot heating the engine block in the dark. The wind picked up, trying to blow out the heater and whipping drifts of snow onto the airstrip in a crosswind.

This was our wedding day. The rest of the wedding party wouldn’t be arriving for a few hours, so I had a leisurely shower and fussed with my hair before donning my wedding outfit. I snickered to myself as I mused about how the Winnipeg Free Press write-up would read: ‘The bride was resplendent in her canary yellow faux seersucker Fortrel leisure suit and faux pearl accessories. Her felt lined boots were hardly noticeable under her bellbottom pants.’

My maid of honour, Brenda Lee Nash, soon arrived and Pat’s best man, Lance Berthiaume, arrived shortly thereafter—both attired in Fortrel leisure suits like mine and faux fur trimmed parkas, in preparation for an in-flight ceremony on this frigid March day.

When the Commissioner of Marriages, Alan Neal, shivered in, the wedding party was complete except for the groom, who hadn’t returned from his mission to prepare the Cessna 180. Alan Neal was a Salvation Army sergeant who ran a half-way house for ex-cons. He declared his Marriage Commissioner gig proudly on his vanity plates – MAREU. He had written a special benediction especially for our unique ceremony and was anxious to take his first flight in a small bush plane on skis.

And therein lay the rub. Pat was grim-faced when he stomped his boots on the doormat. The crosswind would play havoc with the take-off and landing and he felt this would not go down well with the two members of the party who had never been up in a small plane—it might even come up. We were debating the issue when the phone rang. Pat answered it and all we heard was “Don’t know what you’re talking about—not us.” When he hung up, he said a local TV station wanted to come out and film the ceremony in the airplane. Pat did not want to make a spectacle of the event, so it was settled—there would be no in-flight ceremony.

We were all a little disappointed, but over copious amounts of steaming coffee we discussed our options. The Assiniboine Park Conservatory was known to be a popular place for weddings so I gave them a call. Yes, we could hold our ceremony there. We just had to call this number to book a date and they would open the Floral Conservatory for us. I was crestfallen. Hoping to get around this booking procedure, I asked her if the Conservatory wasn’t open now. After a little hesitation, she said yes. My heart was in my throat as I asked if she would allow us to come down right away. That would be fine, but she hastened to add that the Conservatory was open to the public. Well! That didn’t matter to us—and off we went in our parkas and boots.

Pat and I were used to changing direction when conditions warranted it, but this turn of events was an adventure for the rest. We burst into the humid Conservatory laughing and peering through steamed up glasses and tossed our outer gear on a bench.

The wedding party assembled in the centre of the garden and the ‘public’ had a ringside view to witness our vows. Alan ended the ceremony with the special benediction wishing us CAVU conditions, (that’s Clear And Visibility Unlimited), smooth takeoffs and landings on our journey through life.

So that’s how we happened to be married in the Assiniboine Park Floral Conservatory on March 16th 1974. Our lives have been coming up roses ever since, but occasionally it’s been a Zoo.

On March 16th, 2024, we won’t be having our Do-Over in the air this time either. We sold C-FJZV after 53 years of ownership. I had hoped we could renew our vows in the new and improved conservatory—Canada’s Diversity Garden in Assiniboine Park, but I just couldn’t get my ducks in a row.

If you are planning a wedding you must have a look at this beautiful venue in Winnipeg.

Ardelle Holden