After a lengthy hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Valley Gate wedding and event venue is once again open for business.
The picturesque site is located 30 minutes northwest of Brandon, and overlooks the Assiniboine River Valley. The rolling hills and natural landscape offer a beautiful backdrop for couples saying "I do."
"It was an amazing day. We ended up having a lot of fun with such a small crowd of people, and we feel so relieved to have finally had our wedding day," said Courtney Austin, who tied the knot with Lucas Johnson on July 3. Like so many other couples, the pandemic put a wrench in their wedding plans. The couple originally had a wedding date of July 25, 2020, where they planned to host 150 guests.
"It was really heartbreaking," Austin said. "We never imagined anything like that would happen. With the restrictions always changing, there were a lot of ups and downs."
They postponed their wedding to 2021, thinking the pandemic would be behind us. But a year later, Manitoba was still seeing high numbers and widespread restrictions. Thankfully, public health orders allowed small outdoor events, so they were able to host a scaled-back version, and were grateful to at least have 25 guests to witness their big day.
"It all turned out so well," she said. "It was very beautiful, and all of our friends and family said how beautiful it was, and I think it was a perfect location to have a wedding."
Valley Gate was created by husband-and-wife duo Patrick and Ruth Loewen. Ruth is a certified wedding planner with the Wedding Planners Institute of Canada. They are thrilled to get back to hosting weddings at the romantic ceremony site after a trying year.
"2020 was actually shaping up to be our busiest year, and then once the pandemic hit, we ended up only having one event," Ruth said. "I’m hoping that once things open up a little more that people will start to look a little more for venues."
Ruth’s foray into weddings began years ago, when she started her own wedding stationery business called Enchanted Moments. That led to her involvement in wedding shows and realizing just how much opportunity there was in the industry. She expanded her business to include wedding planning services, and then the dream of having her own venue started to take shape.
"I’ve always liked planning parties and things like that. It was always something that I enjoyed doing, so it just seemed like a natural fit," she said.
Ruth and Patrick scoped out potential sites and found the perfect location between Alexander and Rivers, approximately two miles off of Highway 250.
"It felt like home, it really did," Ruth said. "We’re building our house out there this year, and that feeling of home has never left."
The couple purchased the 160-acre parcel of land, and soon went to work. The ceremony site has a large 10-foot-tall pergola, which services as the altar area. A 57-foot lattice wall stands eight feet high and is adorned with vines. An ornate gate opens up to the aisle.
Ruth said she was inspired by some photos she saw of weddings in California and British Columbia, where they had grapevines growing up over the top of a pergola-type setting, with chandeliers and tables underneath.
"I always admired that, and I thought we could do something like that," she said.
Ruth and Patrick are happy to be back at the venue and are looking forward to working together to host events and further their vision of the site.
"This project has been an insightful experience of how two very different personalities can collaborate and contribute to a shared goal," Patrick said. "Ruth is the artistic vision behind the venue, while I get to implement and build many of the features that we currently have (and that we hope to add in the future)."
In addition to the ceremony venue, the site offers space for a reception where an event tent can be set up for dinner and dancing. Ruth said the work they do is so rewarding, and she is passionate about making each and every wedding an event to remember.
"The view out there is quite spectacular, so it does create a very romantic setting," she said. From the scenery and venue to the planning, they want to make sure the couple’s day goes well.
The Loewens have big plans for the future of Valley Gate, such as developing an English garden.
"Our future, future plans, whenever we can get that far ... we do want to put a building on the property and have an actual venue," Ruth said. "The theme that we’re going to go for is more like a Tuscan feel, so we’ll be doing towering cedars, and the style of buildings looks a little more like a Tuscan villa."
Visit valleygate.ca for more information.
» Twitter: @jillianaustin
-- Jillian Austin covers Indigenous and rural matters for The Brandon Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.