Married to History

A Winnipeg couple goes back in time at their 1815-inspired historical wedding.

By Moriah Campbell

Posted July 10, 2017

Weddings today are commonly associated with sleek white dresses, champagne flutes, and fine dining; but instead, a Winnipeg couple chose to celebrate their special day by turning back time.

On July 13, 2014, Janet La France and Chris Black celebrated their nuptials as if it were 1815. The wedding guests awaited the bride’s grand entrance in the oldest standing structure in Winnipeg: the former Grey Nun’s convent and chapel.

The idea to have a historical wedding grew out of the couple’s shared love for the art of historical re-enactment. More than ten years ago, La France and Black met at a re-enactment event, and ever since, the couple has partaken in re-enactments together across Canada and the United States.

“It’s been a hobby of ours for quite some time and it seemed like a good way to put our own spin on our wedding,” La France said.

On the day of the wedding, La France walked down the aisle in a custom-made white cotton voile empire gown and a grey silk overdress inspired by paintings and original garments from the early 1800s.

Black waited for her at the altar in an outfit from his pre-existing re-enactment wardrobe. His dark blue tailcoat and grey silk waistcoat complimented his fitted fall-front trousers quite nicely, and he added a beaver-felt top hat for some style. Black said that the outfits seem intricate by today’s standards, but they were common for typical citizens of 1815.

“In this time period, people would have just worn their Sunday best to get married,” La France said.

As they said, “I do,” the couple was surrounded by eighty of their closest friends and family. The groomsmen, who were fellow re-enactors, wore regency-era outfits and the bridesmaids wore dark blue empire gowns handmade by the groom. The officiant stood out from the wedding party as he was styling 1730s-era garb.

The wedding invitations read Costumes encouraged but not required.

“Some of our guests did go all-out, and found a seamstress to make them an outfit. It was really nice to have them there blending in with us,” La France said.  

Afterwards, the newlyweds and their guests enjoyed a reception at Fort Gibraltar, a Winnipeg historical site that was built by the North West Company in 1809.

Sticking to tradition, Black changed his wardrobe before arriving at the Fort. Outfit changes throughout the day were a common practice among men during this time period, Black said. It was a way to keep fresh on hot days during a time period when bathing wasn’t always an option.

“He really is like the Beyoncé of re-enacting — when he’s volunteering at the Fort, he changes five times a day,” La France said.

As guests sipped tea and ate scones, a pianist and fiddler played the music of the time period. The couple had made tables runners with historically accurate fabric, and used their antique silverware as decoration. They even served a traditional nineteenth-century drink called syllabub that combines heavy cream, lemon, and wine. 

“I still have people tell me they are not going to forget our wedding, because it was so different than everyone else’s, and they had so much fun,” La France said.

Chris Black began partaking in re-enactments since 1997. Aside from being a historical tailor, Black has interpreted both nationally and internationally. He volunteers regularly at Fort Gibraltar in Winnipeg, where he portrays a North West Company partner circa 1815. Janet France has been re-enacting for more than a decade throughout North America, and works as a historical genealogist at Le Musée de Saint-Boniface in Winnipeg.

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