Peace Arch Park becomes pandemic wedding venue for cross-border couples

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The coronavirus pandemic has canceled events large and small this summer, from the Tokyo Olympics to family reunions. Some may have thought this year’s wedding season was canceled too, especially for cross-border couples. But since the United States and Canada border closed on March 21, Peace Arch Park has become a popular wedding destination for cross-border couples from all over looking for a way to reunite.

The Northern Light spoke with several couples that married at the park, and they all shared similar stories. They all met online, through dating apps, live-streaming platforms, chat rooms and online forums. Each started their relationship hundreds of miles apart from each other. Many of them, as years passed, closed that distance down to less than an hour travel time and a border crossing. Others, soon after meeting in person, began talking about marriage. 

Some had plans to wed before the pandemic that were ruined. Others began making plans during the pandemic. Those living close enough to the border began meeting at 0 Avenue, across a ditch from their loved one. Then they heard from friends, family members and social media groups, for couples separated by the pandemic, that Canadians were allowed into the U.S. side of Peace Arch Park, so they began meeting there. Some proposed at the park, and all were married there.

It’s unclear how many cross-border couples have been married at the park this summer. Some Saturdays and Sundays see five weddings a day, sometimes more. Park ranger Rick Blank estimated that there have been about 20 weddings per week at the park this summer. Blank said the majority of weddings he’s seen at the park are following proper social distancing rules.

While he is happy there are weddings in the park, Blank said he hopes people will stick to the park guidelines: 10 wedding guests, groups of five spaced six feet apart, 10 foot by 10 foot canopies that do not require large stakes in the ground and no balloons with glitter or confetti. He said large stakes have caused problems with the underground irrigation lines and the glitter and confetti cause a big mess for the rangers to clean up.

He strongly recommends couples have a small wedding in the park and plan for a bigger celebration after the pandemic is over and border reopens.

Since the park is in Whatcom County, most couples apply for their marriage license with the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office. Records and licensing supervisor for the auditor’s office Stacy Hawthorn said although the auditor’s office doesn’t track citizenship of marriage license applicants, they have had many people with Canadian addresses contacting the office about marriage licenses.

While the number of marriage licenses issued by the auditor’s office at the beginning of the summer was down from previous years, Hawthorn said the number of licenses issued in August was up four percent from last year. They have also had many people from King and Snohomish counties apply for marriage licenses since those counties have not reopened their licensing offices.

Elizabeth and Daniel

Like many cross-border couples, Elizabeth Rodriguez of Maple Ridge, B.C., and Daniel Frausto of San Diego, met online. Their relationship began two years ago on a live-streaming app called Periscope. Rodriguez frequented the app, talking to online friends and occasionally singing along to songs, when Frausto came across her broadcast one day.

What started as a friendship soon blossomed into a romance as Frausto would encourage Rodriguez to sing in the online chat, something she was nervous about.

“He was always super enthusiastic and supportive, he got me to actually come out of my shell quite a bit,” Rodriguez said.

Soon after, the couple exchanged phone numbers and talked almost everyday until finally meeting face-to-face last December. Once they met in person, Rodriguez said the two knew that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. They met in San Diego once more, six months ago, and began planning their wedding.

“Being separated for so long, we had enough of the long distance stuff over the years and we just wanted to be together,” Rodriguez said.

The two learned about Peace Arch Park through a Facebook group that was aimed at helping cross-border couples reunite. They found a local officiant, set a date and were married at the park on September 2. As Rodriguez walked toward her fiance, her white dress flowing behind her, “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars played softly in the background. The song is special to the couple because Rodriguez would sing along to it on Periscope, prompting Frausto to call it her theme song.

Once they were married, the two crossed the border into Canada, hoping to live in Maple Ridge together for the foreseeable future. They plan to buy a house and try for a baby as well as raise chickens and goats on their property.

Rodriguez said, because of Frausto’s unwavering encouragement, she also plans to release an album of original songs titled “Endlessly Chasing Butterflies.” Without Frausto, Rodriguez said, this is something she never thought she’d have the courage to do.

Alex and Angela

When Angela Renee Andriani, 32, and Alex Andriani, 31, met last year on a Kik Messenger chatroom that Angela created, she lived in Abbotsford, B.C., and he lived in Oakland, California. Last October Alex was turned away at the border when he came up to meet Angela in person for the first time due to an expired passport. Angela met him in Blaine, and the two spent a couple days together in a hotel.

Alex moved to Bellingham so he could be closer to Angela, he said. They began staying at each other’s places on the weekends soon after and would usually meet up once during the week for dinner or a sleepover, Angela said. But when the border closed, they began meeting at 0 Avenue at least three to four times a week to have a meal together on the side of the road.

“[We’d] literally be on the side of the road with cars whizzing by,” Angela said.

Then they heard about other cross-border couples meeting at Peace Arch Park so they started meeting there three to four times a week. Alex surprised Angela when he proposed at the park in May, he said.

On their wedding day on August 15, Angela said they arrived at 8 a.m. to claim the spot they wanted since the park is first come, first served. To socially distance, they had tables separated in the picnic area of the park, made sure there were five people to a table and had masks and gloves available at every table, she said.

“We tried to make it like as much of a regular wedding as we could, obviously,” Angela said.

Angela said every time they visited each other at the park they would stay until it closed at 9 p.m. But on their wedding day, they were so exhausted they left separately around midafternoon because their marriage license still needed to be certified at the Whatcom County Courthouse for either of them to cross the border.

“I’m married now, and I still have to walk away from my husband, on our wedding day,” Angela said. “That was not fun.”

The Andriani’s bought and moved into a house together, with Angela’s son Preston, in Chilliwack, B.C.

“A huge weight has been lifted off our shoulders,” Angela said. “We can finally just be together.”

Alex and Alma

Alex of Minnesota and Alma of Vancouver, B.C. both 25 and wished to keep their last names private for job opportunities – met online six years ago. Alex made a post on an online forum that Alma responded to, and they have been talking every day since, Alma said.

They started dating seriously five years ago, Alma said, usually having dates over Skype. But last year, Alex moved to Whatcom County. Alma said they spent most weekends at each other’s places before the pandemic and subsequent border closure.

“It really sucked for him, because he came all this way only to not be able to see me,” Alma said.

So they returned to having Skype dates. Alma said it felt like they were taking a step back in their relationship. They didn’t know about people visiting their cross-border loved ones at 0 Avenue until relatives sent them news articles about other couples having border meet-ups, she said.

They eventually started meeting at Peace Arch Park on weekends when they found out it was open for Canadians. Alma said they still met at 0 Avenue during the week because it was a long drive to the park for both of them.

Alex proposed at the park, and they were married there on September 6.

“It’s so beautiful here that I thought, we may as well get married,” Alma said.

Seventeen family members attended the wedding and socially distanced, Alma said.

Alex and Alma plan to have a larger wedding gathering in a year or so, or whenever restrictions are lifted and it’s safe to do so. Having the wedding at the park allowed for some of Alex’s family members who don’t have passports to meet Alma’s family. “That was a silver lining,” Alma said.

After they were married, Alma jumped on a single-passenger San Juan Airlines flight from a regional Canadian airport to Bellingham Airport in her wedding dress. The airline employees said she was the first bride to make the journey in her dress, Alma said. She met Alex on the tarmac.

Alex plans to finish up work and visit his parents for Thanksgiving before he moves in with Alma since he will not be able to leave Canada for about a year while he establishes his permanent residency. They intend to find a place of their own in the lower mainland of British Columbia, she said.

Amelia and Kyron

When Kyron Nakamitsu, 26, of Maui, Hawaii, met Amelia Vera, 30, of Montreal, on Mutual, a Mormon dating app, he thought she lived in Hawaii. Nakamitsu said he soon found out that Vera had returned home to Canada and they continued talking, and eventually video chatting.

Vera visited Nakamitsu in Maui for three weeks in December. Nakamitsu said they hit it off, and he thought she was the one so he proposed. Since December they were planning to get married in Oahu, Hawaii.

“Yeah, it jacked everything up,” he said.

During the pandemic, they looked for other options to have their wedding and thought about moving plans to Canada. When they heard about Peace Arch Park a couple months ago through a Facebook group called “Faces of Advocacy,” they figured it was a good backup, Nakamitsu said. They were still hoping to get married in Canada, but once they heard rumors of the border remaining closed until possibly late next year, they saw Peace Arch as their only option to be
together soon.

Nakamitsu and Vera were married at the park on September 12 in front of a small group of family and friends, and dozens of spread out, onlooking strangers visiting their loved ones at the park that day.

The Monday after their wedding, Nakamitsu got their marriage license certified at Whatcom County Courthouse and boarded a plane to Quebec to move in with Vera for the time being. They eventually plan to move to Maui together.

“Throughout the whole entire process we were losing hope,” Nakamitsu said. “It felt like a huge blessing to finally be together.”

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