Ottawa couple out thousands of dollars after wedding venue denies refund during pandemic

An Ottawa couple is out thousands of dollars for a wedding that isn’t happening.

The soon-to-be Hughes were set to get married at Strathmere this month, until they learned of all the restrictions COVID-19 would impose.

In part, the venue’s guidelines say, “Dancing is not permitted, but music is. A face covering must be worn indoors. You must be seated when eating and drinking.”

“Our guests wouldn’t be able to dance. They’d be forced to sit in social bubbles to eat and drink. Some people coming to our wedding aren’t coming with anyone from their social bubble. They would be forced to sit at a table alone,” Rhiannon Renaud said.

The couple isn’t willing to postpone.

“We don’t know when we can actually have a regular wedding, so postponing could lead to further postponement,” Ryan Hughes said.

According to the contract they signed with the North Gower venue, their nearly $7,000 deposit is “non-refundable and non-transferrable.”

“In our minds we’re not cancelling. Strathmere isn’t able to provide the wedding that we signed up for, so to us that is a breach of contract,” Renaud said.

Part of the deposit is for a facility fee, food, alcohol and accommodation.

The couple says the venue can keep the facility fee, but they’re asking for the money that was never spent to be returned.

The venue declined and said they would go out of business if they refunded even half of their weddings.

Strathmere CEO Mary McGill said a lot of work goes into weddings, months before they even happen.

“I think we are doing everything that we can to offer reasonable options,” she said.

According to McGill, 85 per cent of Strathmere couples have postponed their wedding to next year.

She said she has offered a significant discount as an option for couples that want to get married this summer.

“We can use the deposit. They won’t have to spend anything more and in some cases that’s a $20-25 thousand reduction.”

For the soon-to-be Hughes, that option doesn’t work.

Their original buffet-style meal would have to change to a sit-down dinner. For the same money, less people would be fed, which means shrinking their guest list even more.

Strathmere isn’t alone. Another Ottawa wedding venue tells CTV News it is not returning deposits, because it can’t afford to. However, one venue tell CTV News they are returning deposits out of good-will.

Meantime, an Ontario bride has launched a petition calling on venues across the province to offer full refunds. Over 6,800 people have signed it.

Ottawa lawyer, Robert Nadeau, said complaints like these could be the tip of the iceberg. 

“At the moment we don’t know which way the courts are going to go on these, because there are a lot of these cases,” he said.

He said the contract might be “frustrated” and couples could have a good chance in court, although he doesn’t advise taking it there. It could take 18 months before appearing in front of a judge and could cost more than the deposit itself, he said.

Nadeau acknowledged it’s a terrible situation for both parties and said the best solution is a compromise.

However, with no agreement in sight, the couple says they will consider taking legal action.

Renaud said they’ve decided to have a low-key backyard wedding instead.

“I want to get married on my own terms.”