Marriages in St. Albert were, until recently, all but in the hands of men.
Now two women have joined St. Albert’s five male marriage commissioners. And Mary Zakordonski and Nancy Beirnes say they’re getting really busy.
“We are surprised by the number of people that are calling,” says Beirnes. “It’s just startling.”
It all started with weddings.
Zakordonski attended her niece’s wedding in 2012. It was “the most beautiful ceremony.” On the way home, her husband said “you should do that.”
“And I said, ‘I think I should,” she says.
She applied to become a marriage commissioner soon after. But there were no openings for the position in St. Albert. So she filled the next two years with workshops on event planning, wedding coordination and job shadowing. In 2014, she reapplied for the role, and got in.
Beirnes’ story is similar. At a summer vacation last year, she met the man who had once married her. He had “some good stories” that intrigued her, she says. So she called up Vital Statistics (the agency that registers births, deaths and marriages in Alberta) and told them her community had grown.
“We have a Costco, and I think we need a new marriage commissioner,” she said.
To get married in Alberta, a couple must apply for a marriage licence, which is given to a marriage officiant, or commissioner, on the day of the wedding.
The commissioner is a person appointed by the province to legally perform marriages. They perform civil marriages while religious or clergy persons look after religious ceremonies. After the wedding, the commissioner has 48 hours to submit the marriage documents for registration.
The job requires a lot of organizational skills, says Zarkodonski. They don’t tell the couple where to buy the cake and hold the ceremony. But they can adapt to their needs and include different traditions or symbolisms in the ceremony.
Some couples may just want to say their vows and exchange the rings, she says. Others may want to light a candle, blend coloured sand in a vase (symbolizing the union of different individuals), or incorporate parts of their culture into the ceremony.
The two women are also open to wedding people at the beach, in the back of a car, or in an airplane. Even a nudist wedding or masquerade is a go, as long as they can wear some clothes that “respect the role,” says Beirnes.
“I don’t want to jump out of an airplane,” laughs Zakordonski. “But I go up in the airplane and do the ceremony.”
Marriage commissioners come from all walks of life and careers. What they all have in common are good people skills, both women say.
Zakordonski, a retired management accountant, did her fair share of public speaking, organizing meetings and teamwork. She also lived in St. Albert for more than 20 years.
Beirnes grew up in St. Albert and continues to live here with her husband and teenaged children. She has a background in education and counselling and is “good with people.”
But marrying people also has to come with a good sense of humour, she says.
“It’s a special time and it’s a stressful time where when you can enlighten things appropriately, it makes it so much easier for the couple,” she says.
The appointment as commissioner will last five years, after which both women can reapply. Beirnes says they’re happy they were appointed at the same time. “It’s nice to have each other” for advice, they say.
They are also happy to provide a female option for people wanting to get married in St. Albert. Across Alberta, many marriage commissioners are female. Only in St. Albert, the majority are male. The last female commissioner had retired a while ago, and new commissioners were not appointed until now, they say.
“There is a need for more marriage commissioners and I am proud that I am female,” says Beirnes. “It won’t be important to everybody but to some people it will be. It’s nice to have that option.”
Marrying in Alberta
For more information on getting married in Alberta, and for a complete list of all marriage commissioners in St. Albert, visit servicealberta.ca and search "Vital Statistics" or "marriage commissioner listing."