There is a “huge” demand for civil weddings at Niagara Falls City Hall, says City Clerk Bill Matson.
“We’re doing, on average right now, about eight or 10 a week,” he said.
“We started doing them in February 2020, then the world fell apart a month later, and so we stopped, obviously (due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Then I think just because couples across Ontario and beyond were putting their plans on hold with limits on gatherings and restrictions, people who might have wanted to get married in 2020 or 2021 delayed their plans, and now that restrictions have been eased or lifted in most places, everyone is planning to get married.
Matson said the city only offers civil ceremonies, and in most cases the service only involves the couple, their witnesses and a “very small gathering.”
“We started doing them again in April and it’s become very popular,” he said.
The city council passed a by-law before the pandemic allowing the clerk, or delegated staff, to be authorized to perform civil marriages. The settlement reversed the city’s longstanding decision not to offer such services.
In 2004, the Marriage Act was amended to allow municipal clerks to perform civil marriages. Since then, many municipalities have provided a simple and inexpensive alternative to expensive traditional wedding ceremonies.
In a 2004 report, City of Niagara Falls staff recommended that civil marriages not be offered because Niagara employees did not want to increase their workload, the services provided by other members of the community and no suitable location available at City Hall to hold a ceremony.
But now, based on demand and requiring minimal resources, staff said the city is ready to welcome revenue-generating customer service.
Staff said they also believe that due to the availability of council chambers and space in the Civic Square in front of City Hall, as well as additional green space with the Old Courthouse and the city hall building demolished, the previous concern about space is not an issue. .
“The service itself usually only takes about 15 minutes. There are certain requirements under marriage law for different declarations that must be made, but on our website we have three different types of ceremonies that can be made,” Matson said.
“It depends if the couple is going to be exchanging vows or exchanging wedding rings. They choose which ceremony they like. We fill in all the blanks with their names and all the details. Of course, they require a license to be obtained. wedding, which we have been doing for many years, now we just combine that license with the actual ceremony.
He said some couples get their permits from another municipality and while they “try to make their plans, they decide to come to Niagara Falls.”
“This license is valid anywhere in Ontario, no matter where you get it.
Matson said most services are performed in the council chamber, and if the weather is nice, some couples get married outside by the fountain in front of City Hall, or elsewhere on the lawn.
“We only offer them Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. We are not looking to do this on nights and weekends. There are many services in the city that already deal with it.
He said the city would like to reallocate some of the area where the Old Courthouse and City Hall once stood, and that staff are “coming up with capital budget ideas.”
“We might look at building a little structure there like a gazebo or a garden or something where we can do them on site,” Matson said, adding that some of the stonework from the old courthouse and of the 153-year-old town hall could be reused in any structure erected for wedding ceremonies.
“Even if someone wants a wedding outside, we still have to book the council room in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.”
The city offers civil weddings for $200, but there could be additional charges if couples want additional services.
“If someone wanted a rehearsal — most don’t — there will be a cost for that, just with the extra time,” Matson said.
“Some come and they have no witnesses. For a ceremony to be performed you need to have two witnesses, so if they need staff to show up there is a small fee for that.
Mayor Jim Diodati said he “can’t get over” the number of well-dressed weddings he sees outside City Hall these days.
“I believe Niagara Falls is one of the best places to get married,” he said.
“It’s a romantic place because of the falls and the history that goes back to the heart-shaped tubs and vibrant beds. It’s just one of those places where people come for honeymoons and, often, weddings.
Diodati said he credits the staff for improving the exterior appearance of City Hall and the area around it, making it more attractive for such ceremonies.
“Now that we have removed this building, we have more green space and a beautiful waterfall in the front, and the redesign of the town hall, we have changed all the exterior cladding,” he said. .
“The staff have done a good job revamping an old building, and I think it’s a nice setting, and then while they’re here, they’re getting married, they’re going to dinner, and maybe they’ll spend the night in a hotel.It’s kind of a one-stop-shop in Niagara Falls.