Nicole & Kyle's eco-minimal, Toronto Zoo wedding

favourite part of the dayThe offbeat bride: Nicole, Biologist (and OBT member)

Her offbeat partner: Kyle, Biologist

Location & date of wedding: Africa Picnic Site and Atrium at the Toronto Zoo, in Toronto, Ontario — September 12, 2009

What made our wedding offbeat: My biggest goal was to reduce the environmental impact of our wedding, since that's something we do in pretty much all aspects of our lives. To this end, we minimized décor (none at the ceremony site) or used upcycled/repurposed components (bouquets, centerpieces) and native wildflowers. Our apparel was either rented, consignment (my dress), already owned or wearable again (bridesmaid dresses, theoretically). We also designed our paper materials to reduce the amount of paper necessary.

alpaca visitor
Alpaca!

The other major offbeat thing was how animal-y our wedding was. It was at a zoo (our ceremony was right next to the gorillas) and the guests visited the zoo while we took photos. Kyle and I ended up having some animal encounters during our photo session, and we had arranged for some animal visitors at the reception. Our seating plan was animal themed and each table had species info cards.

seating plan

Our ceremony was short and non-religious; we had a humanist officiant. We personalized any element we could with a customized ceremony, hand-written vows, and music and food completely reflecting our tastes. We DIY'd whatever we could (décor, programs, seating chart). We also didn't have dancing. Instead, Kyle and I did a "trivia game" involving shoes, we had playing cards and a few board games, and the wedding ended pretty early.

Oh, and I had substantial help from Kyle during the planning process, which I guess is pretty non-traditional!

kangaroos are scared of white

Our biggest challenge: Given that we wanted an actual wedding so that we could share it with family, my biggest challenge was making decisions that would appeal to us as well as our guests (who ranged in age from 1-101 years old, commuted between fifteen minutes and four hours, and are mostly meat-eaters). There was an overly long period of time where I resented the fact that I couldn't do things exactly my way even if there were valid reasons why I couldn't, and it caused a lot of stress, anxiety, and tears.

When I finally recognized that I was buying into the spoiled bride mentality that "it's MY wedding and I can do things HOWEVER I WANT" and that our wedding wasn't just for me, a lot of the stress went away and I started to (gasp!) actually enjoy the planning process.

I also didn't expect how specific some people's expectations are about what a wedding should be. For example, when showing pictures of my (non-matching) bridesmaid dresses, people would say "which one is the bridesmaid dress?" (um… both?). And when telling people that our reception was dance-free, they'd say, "what are you doing instead?" (um… we're supposed to plan an alternative?). And I received few odd looks when I mentioned that we weren't having a wedding cake.

Kyle adds that his biggest challenge was, "dealing with the crying during wedding planning. Lots and lots of crying. Also, coming up with viable solutions to alleviate the source of said crying."

wedding party
I love all the colors in the bridal party!

My favorite moment: I'm still amazed at how un-nervous I was about the whole "getting married" thing, since everyone had been telling me how nervous I'd be on my wedding day. I figure that I had already made my decision to be with Kyle when we got engaged, and the wedding was just the pretty party for our families.

I'm also still awestruck at how Kyle so elegantly fixed our problematic centerpieces, and I think it's a great metaphor for our relationship (we're much better together than apart).

Another favourite is when we took portraits with a snake. We both love animals in general, and reptiles are Kyle's favourite type of animal, so it was pretty awesome. I had been hoping to take photos with a snake, and couldn't believe our luck that it actually happened.

And lastly, I totally enjoyed the DIY nights with Kyle and miss them now that the wedding's over!

Kyle's favourite was: Basically the reception. After a nerve wracking ceremony, the reception and speeches were a piece of cake. Everyone really enjoyed themselves even though we didn't have the usual dancing. The food was great (wish I had the appetite to eat more at the time), and we got a lot of compliments on the decor. I really had my doubts that a bunch of old wine bottles, jars, and weeds pulled from the side of the road could make for an attractive reception decor, but it came together really well.

My offbeat advice: Not everyone will love this advice, but here goes…

Figure out early on who the wedding is for (you vs. family) and how selfish/selfless you're going to be. If you're having it at least in part for your families, recognize that you should probably make some compromises (e.g. if your family is travelling, it's probably a good idea to have a sit-down dinner rather than tea party fingerfoods).

Spend some time browsing OBT before making final decisions/purchases. My original wedding ideas were pretty average until I started regularly browsing OBT, at which point my mind blew up: "Woah, I can do THAT?" But I had already made some purchases (e.g. my dress, which would be over-the-top rainbow/sparkly if purchased now), so we ended up with some less personalized elements than I'd have liked.

Have no expectations. Look at it this way: things can't possibly go wrong if you haven't got an idea of what "going right" actually is.

If you're trying to be green, think outside the box. Greenifying "traditional" weddings can be expensive, but disposing with traditional items (e.g. floral arrangements, steak dinner, traditional apparel) can vastly decrease the eco-impact.

(Warning: cheese-fest) Your wedding is offbeat enough. There were definitely times that I felt awed, even inadequate while browsing the OBB/OBT blog/forums. But, your weddings shouldn't be a competition, right? Make your wedding something personal to you and your partner; an event you'll enjoy planning, experiencing, and remembering.

Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?:

Enough talk — show me the wedding zoo porn!:

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  1. I really love your photos and the pictures with the animals at the zoo. And I cried a lot too in the planning process! DIY is not easy but so worth it! You are both adorable and this is a very unique wedding and your experience planning it reflects the life you'll have together in the best of ways. Congratulations!

    1 agrees
  2. My fiance and I have been racking our brains trying to come up with a location for the low-key wedding we want, and the Toronto Zoo would be PERFECT!! How did you go about arranging this? Your photos look gorgeous! Both you and your groom are positively glowing! Congratulations!

  3. Agreed Wendy_Smith!! Love the sack people!

    Thank you for that last part- the "your wedding is offbeat enough" .. I struggle with feeling inadequate over some of the ideas / weddings here. So good reminder.

    Beautiful wedding – stunning photos and bride and groom! Congrats!

  4. I LOVE your little sack boy/girl "cake" toppers. Such a cute idea! The pictures are wonderful!

  5. Thanks all! 🙂

    Yes! Ariel, that's exactly what I was thinking of when I wrote the line; if I hadn't been short on words, I was going to post the link and ask it to be hyperlinked. By the way… it may just be the computer I'm on, but your links seems to be broken? http://offbeatbride.com/2007/05/your-wedding-is-n

    Michelle, if you're serious about Toronto Zoo, maybe drop me a line on OBT (I don't love the idea of posting my email in a blog comment… call me paranoid) and I can tell you all about it.

  6. Thanks for the bit about having a wedding for your family vs. for yourself. I'm trying to find a balance with that myself. I'll try to remember that bit about having no expectations too. I tend to freak out a little bit if something doesn't go according to plan or my vision. I have to keep repeating "as long as my fiance shows up, nothing can go wrong."

  7. Yay for zoo weddings! Yours looks so simple and perfect and lovely. Your wedding is so close to what I've envisioned it's eerie.

  8. OMG are those Roxy shoes?! My company made those! 🙂
    Beautiful wedding – congrats!

  9. I love your advice to consider to what extent it will be about you and/or family. On OBB you often hear "it's YOUR day, do what makes you happy!", probably b/c us offbeat folks get so much flak for it from rigid traditionalists people feel the need to be supportive. And while that's an important message, I totally agree that this kind of event is about community and family in a really deep way, and if family is important to you, you should keep that in mind during planning. Also, everything in these pictures is just fabulous. So joyful. And the bride wore snakes and parrots! Rock on you two, and congrats.

  10. I could agree more with the compromising advice. Fact is, you're asking a whole variety of people, with different comfort zones, mobility, diets, ideas of fun, to come and share a day which is as much about celebrating your community as it is about making a promise to each other. So, it only seems fair to try create an event will be positive for everyone. My two cents is draw a big solid line around the ceremony and make sure that it's exactly what you and your partner want, but to relax your grip on the reception, accept the imput of others and build it together!

    Also, Nicole, your wedding certainly looks beautiful and, from the joy in your faces, I'd say it probably felt beautiful too. Congratulations.

  11. I'm loving the Toronto weddings posted here lately! This one's glorious. Congrats!

  12. Your wedding looked like it was sooo fun! What a cute couple! I love the knit cake and toppers.

  13. This is fantastic! I might be getting married at a zoo too, so this is very inspiring!
    Congrats!!

  14. This is FABULOUS!! As a zoo lover and a former San Diegan, I would have gotten married at the SD Zoo in a heartbeat. Your wedding was beautiful!

    Excellent advice as well. I too feel a bit inadequate looking at some of the rad creations posted by fellow OBT members, but I have to keep reminding myself what is best and most perfect for us. Thanks for sharing!!

  15. Love love love your little big planet cake. My husband gasped when he saw them too.

    1 agrees
  16. as a bridesmaid in the wedding, I felt honoured to be a part of something so unique and special. Nic, I had no idea you shed so many tears in the planning process, I hope I wasn't the source of any of them!! It was a beautiful day, a beautiful ceremony/reception, and I'm so glad you had your wedding authentic to your beliefs!! thanks for making me a part of your special day.

  17. Your wedding looks amazing! My now fiancée proposed to me at the Toronto Zoo and I was looking into booking my wedding there. I went to the zoo website for information but there wasn't a lot. I did a google search for toronto zoo wedding and that is how I stumbled on this. ( This site is AWESOME btw) I would love to talk to you and get your point of view of how everything went. Please email me mostwonderfulgal@hotmail.com

  18. I love this, as a fellow biologist (though I'm of the marine persuasion). But I do have one question: why no dancing? I think it's great that you did your own thing, I'm just curious.

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