Inside a backyard ceremony with a surprise drive-by parade

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Hailey and Chun Ling Ho—a content marketer for Shopify and a freelance videographer, respectively—met while volunteering at the same high school program in 2015. Before the pandemic, they had planned a giant outdoor barbecue in August for 250 guests at a park in Halton Hills. They waited until early July to officially change plans, choosing instead to host a backyard ceremony in Markham for their immediate family and friends. Here’s what went down.

Chun: We were both born and raised in Scarborough. We met when I started volunteering in the same department as Hailey at a high school conference for teens five years ago. Our first meeting wasn’t the greatest—I happened to walk in with a leather jacket on and slicked-back hair and Hailey immediately thought I was a jerk.

Hailey:  I was being protective of the youth because I had been on the team for a while. We were part of the team that helped the youth create dramas, monologues, dances and musicals. I was especially invested since I attended the camp when I was in high school, and went on to volunteer with the organization as an adult. Chun came in as a total outsider, so I couldn’t get a read on him.

Chun: She grilled me for two hours on everything to do with youth. But we became good friends, and stayed that way for the next three years.

Hailey: I saw how much he loved the kids, how he cared for other people, how creative he was, and I started developing feelings. Everyone on our team found out I was secretly pining for Chun, and would tease me about it. But Chun and I were still volunteering together weekly, and I didn’t want anything to be awkward with the kids if we dated and it didn’t work out.

Chun: During my last year of volunteering, in 2017, I started developing feelings for Hailey as well. I had a feeling she liked me, but I always shut it out of my mind. We used to butt heads a lot in our first year so I told myself it wouldn’t work. But we got to know each other better, and I realized we agreed on the important things like God, family, and friendships. I couldn’t imagine my life without her, and I started envisioning us building a life together. So I finally asked her out.

Hailey: It was the best date ever! We met up at his place in the morning. He wrote me a poem, got me flowers, and—since faith is a big part of both of our lives—we prayed before leaving for the day. We got Portuguese tarts at St. Lawrence Market, ate lunch at Miku, biked along Lake Shore, wandered around Roncesvalles and sat in Adirondack chairs next to the bridge in Humber Bay. It was awkward, because we were testing what we’d be like as a couple, but also normal at the same time since we were such great friends.

Chun: My roommates and I always joked that if you could take a girl to Swiss Chalet on your first date, she’s a keeper. So that’s exactly what I did. What I love about Hailey is that she’s super-vibrant. She cheers people up when she meets them. It’s easy for her to make them feel comfortable. She’s also the most tenacious person I know.

Hailey: Chun was so kind and engaging with our students, taking them for coffee to talk about life. He was also brilliant at creating dramas and musicals. I was so impressed. He can play a ton of instruments, and we would have long singalongs all the time. He also has a great relationship with his family and prioritizes time with them.

Chun: Hailey was ready to get engaged six months into our relationship. We weren’t living together yet, but it was still tricky to buy the ring and plan a proposal without her knowing about it.

Hailey: It became a running joke between us where I would ask him most days if we were getting engaged and check his pockets for a ring box.

Chun: It was too predictable to do it on our one-year anniversary, so I planned to do it the week after, on a random Thursday. She had drinks with her colleagues, and I was going to meet her for dinner after. I knew that she would be checking my pockets, so I bought a shallow ring box and taped it to my ankle. I was so nervous it was going to fall off on the subway. We went to Sang-Ji Fried Bao, our favourite restaurant in North York.

Hailey: It’s super-humble, with only three things on the menu: dumplings, dry noodles and wontons. But they do those dishes so well.

Chun: Sure enough, Hailey asked if we were getting engaged as soon as we met up. I told her to feel my pockets and see for herself. When she didn’t feel anything, she was bummed.

Hailey: I was usually unfazed by it, but this time I was upset. I thought, We know each other so well already. What’s taking so long?

Chun: At dinner, I was trying to talk about our wonderful year together, and she told me I was wasting good material for our actual engagement. After dinner I took her to a nearby parkette, where some of the kids we volunteered with had set up jars filled with fairy lights around a fountain. I wanted the jars to look like they were filled with fireflies.

Hailey: I had a straight-up meltdown when I saw the scene. This whole time I was so excited to get engaged, but when it came time for the moment I thought, I’m not ready; let’s do this another time!

Chun: I dragged her into the parkette, and Hailey was crying and laughing at the same time. I don’t think she was listening to anything I was saying. But I got down on one knee and proposed. She accepted, and we got into wedding planning right away.

Hailey: We both have fond memories of attending huge church barbecues when we were kids. We didn’t want an extravagant party. We just wanted to celebrate with everyone who was a part of our relationship. We had booked a park in Halton Hills called Terra Cotta Conservation Area. There’s a ceremony section with pews facing a stage and a large field with a pavilion for shade. We were going to set up a tent for dancing and food. It was going to be chill and unstructured—our focus was on spending time with our guests. We wanted to lead a sing-along parade from the ceremony to the reception area, with flags for the kids and musicians playing songs like “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” and “Sweet Caroline”.

We held out hope it was going to be able to happen for a few months. By early July, it was looking unlikely that there would be a vaccine or that we could have a gathering of 250 people. So, we cancelled the wedding and decided to have a much smaller ceremony on the same day in early August. Luckily, we were able to get all our money back from the venue and vendors.

I was still crushed when we made the decision. I had been waiting for this day my whole life. I wasn’t able to have a bridal shower or bachelorette, which helps you prepare emotionally and mentally. It was hard to let go of all those ideals.

Chun: We wanted to have the wedding in a backyard, and part of the challenge was making sure there was enough space to social distance. We ended up choosing a friend’s yard and plotted out the whole thing, spacing picnic blankets apart for eating, and placing ceremony chairs into their own sections for families. There was going to be hand sanitizer everywhere. When we were grieving our original wedding, one thing Hailey told me she had really wanted was to see all the people she loved in one place at the same time. I thought, I can still make that happen! I didn’t want her to have to miss out on that, too, and started secretly arranging a drive-by parade.

Hailey: We had an afternoon wedding starting at 4 p.m. Originally, I was going to hire someone to do hair and makeup, but because of Covid, I got two of my close girlfriends to do it instead. Everyone who was there had a job, and we tried to limit the number of outside people coming in. Our bridal party helped us set up all the decorations. We used these ethereal hanging white paper cones as a curtain when guests walked in, but they were a nightmare to untangle. Our officiant married us, his wife sang for us, and his daughter made lemon squares, fruit tarts and Earl Grey cupcakes for dessert.

Music is a big part of our lives, but we couldn’t have a reception with dancing because we didn’t want to make people feel like they had to stick around if they weren’t comfortable. Dancing usually involves being less than six feet away from each other. We didn’t do a first dance, but I walked down the aisle to a song called “All The Way Home” by Jon and Valerie Guerra. It’s about walking home to heaven and being in front of God. Home is a meaningful theme for us. My ring reads, “Love leads home.”

Chun: One of my groomsmen was in charge of drinks, and his wife helped us do our Chinese tea ceremony, when Chun and I changed into traditional outfits and poured tea for our parents. It’s supposed to represent us joining each other’s families.

After the tea ceremony, I had planned a surprise drive-by for Hailey. Our photographer told Hailey to change back into her wedding dress and head out to the street for more photos. We took photos for what seemed like forever, while we waited for the cars. They were filled with guests we had invited to our original wedding. In total, we had about 30 guests attend the wedding and more pass by in cars afterward.

Hailey: We had such a short time with our guests, and I wanted to go back and spend time with everyone. Just as I was about to leave, I saw all these cars parked on the road. I thought someone on the street was irresponsibly having a party during the pandemic. But then I saw the cars had all these balloons and streamers and photos on them. I clued in, and I started crying so hard I almost passed out. I’m really extroverted, so not being able to see people for so long during Covid was challenging for me. There were over 50 cars, and everyone had waited half an hour in the parking lot to see us for one minute each.

Chun: After, we ate dinner and took photos. We wanted to serve food from Daan Go Café, which specializes in Hong Kong–style fusion brunch. We loved that it’s Chinese-Canadian and feels like a blend of our cultures. We wanted to do takeout boxes for everyone so it would be safer and so guests could take the food home if they didn’t feel comfortable eating there. There was a mix of Asian-style sandwiches and burgers.

Hailey: We had a few guests, including my mom, who are especially vulnerable. We asked everyone to keep their masks on, except while eating and for photos, which were socially distanced. We wanted to be respectful and do what was safe and considerate for everyone. At the end of the day, we were so happy with the celebration because it helped us realize what was important. We still got to celebrate with our closest family and friends, and were able to share the love as much as possible through the process.

Cheat Sheet:

Date: August 8, 2020
Photographer: Laura Amendola Photography
Tie: Tytan Ties
Flowers: Lou Lou’s Flower Truck
Makeup: Zoe Chang
Hair: Annie Tingchaleun
Groom’s outfit: Tom’s Place
Bride’s outfit: Felichia Bridal
Caterer: Daan Go Café
Desserts: Ayumi’s Dessert Shop

Here are more photos from the day: