Love at the Art Gallery

Feb 7, 2020

In this in-depth Q&A, newlyweds Jess and Tristan give a peek into their beautiful, intimate wedding at the MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie this past summer. From living 2000+ km apart, to saying “I do” in the company of their multinational family and friends, their love story is one that warms the heart. Discover how it all came together for them at the Gallery!
Q: How did you two meet?

We met in the Bahamas on a scuba dive liveaboard that Tristan was working aboard as chef at the time. With around twenty-five people made up of guests and crew aboard a sixty foot vessel sailing the Exumas with nothing but ocean around you for a week, it was pretty easy to get to know people. By the end of the week, we’d really hit it off. We had this connection that we couldn’t quite ignore and I think we knew somehow that it wouldn’t be the last we would see of each other and that was about it. After the trip, the conversations just kept going, and not long after, we had the chance to meet up again in Florida and when we did, that feeling just kind of exploded. Even now, we really can’t explain it, but whatever drew us to each other when we first met turned into this feeling that we decided to jump into blindly. We were living and working 2000+ km apart, with very different schedules, but we decided to give things a try without any real plan or thought as to how we’d do it, but we had to at least try. Fast forward, and for about two years, we did long distance, but we made it such an adventure. We met each other’s families and extended families, friends and explored new cities together. By the end of it, we’d explored six different countries, five coastlines and had traveled too many kms to count. It was hard work but somehow we made it work, and it was one of our greatest adventures yet.

Q: Tell us your engagement story. 

We’d organized to spend Valentine’s Day together in Canada and spend time with family while exploring Ontario. The whole trip was amazing. A few days in, we were planning our next day of adventures and getting ready to make dinner. I noticed Tristan had quietly disappeared somewhere in the house so I went to find him. He said I caught him off guard while he was prepping in the room, but he popped out and just hugged me and the rest was a blur. We were at home with family at the time, and I remember my brother hearing the commotion and seeing us hugging and crying and just blubbering, really, and he thought we were so weird hahaha. When we explained to him that we were getting married, he just lit up and was SO excited to call Tristan his brother. We knew that after all that we’d been through – all of the distance, the difficult airport goodbyes and the long video calls in between – there was nothing that could stop us from being together. We were in love.

Q: How did you find out about the MacLaren Art Centre as a wedding venue?

When we had initially decided on Simcoe Region for our celebration, the MacLaren was actually the first to pop up on our radar when we began our search. Jess had actually grown up in the Barrie area and had spent some time at the gallery through school as a small kid, so seeing the familiar name during what can, at times, be a daunting search felt like a fantastic place to start, and the MacLaren did not disappoint.

Q: What made the MacLaren Art Centre your perfect venue?

From the very beginning, we knew that our wedding celebration would be an incredible medley of family and friends from all over the worldPoland, Germany, South Africa, Bahamas, Mexico, Spain, and all across Canada and the US so, seeing the front door of the MacLaren covered with the words “Welcome”, translated in both Polish as well as Afrikaans each of our first languages along with so many others was such a small but special sign for us. From the beginning we loved the way the building blended old and new and in such a unique way. When entering the MacLaren, we knew we weren’t walking into your standard everyday building with a banquet hall for a wedding venue. The large windows with natural light everywhere, the beautiful courtyard, the stone and wood features, the high ceilings, the archway; all of these things worked together perfectly to create this unique space where nature seemingly poured into the building in a really remarkable way. It was perfect for us, as people who love to spend their time outdoors. Through choosing the MacLaren as our venue, we were able to have lots of natural light, a spacious area, as well as an outdoor portion of the venue, with all of the comfort, accessibility and flexibility that comes with choosing an indoor venue. We could probably go on, but simply put, we loved it!

Q: What inspired your colour scheme and décor?

When working through the details of colour schemes and décor, Shannon Bellisle, our planner/coordinator was fantastic at getting to know us and our story, and translating our vision in a tangible way. From the start, when it came to initial design, the only way we could describe our vision was through the emotions we knew would be present. Having our family and friends fly from all over the world just to celebrate our love with us in one space was enormous for us. We both came from very tightly-knit families, and through the ways both of our lives had unfolded through our travels, many of our long-time friends were also scattered all around the world. Shannon was vital in helping us translate that closeness, love and sense of embrace perfectly into the MacLaren’s space. We had ended up with a split U-shaped table arrangement which brought that sense of a close family-style environment into the open space of the Carnegie Room brilliantly, with lots of room for dancing. The tables were decorated with a range of beautiful flowers from the girls at Forgather Floral Co. in whites, soft pinks and greens, ranging in fantastic textures and sitting in a mix of vases ranging in sizes with soft blues, greys and gold acting as pops of colours through the tableware we chose. The special thing about the MacLaren as a venue is that, as cliché as it may initially sound, it really is a sort of blank canvas. It’s so versatile in the way it can be decorated and utilized that it’s so easy to step in and see yourselves on the day-of, during planning. Since we loved the architecture of the gallery and the space itself, we opted to keep our decor simple and clean, while playing with textures, and bringing in colours from nature that we loved, to mimic what we loved about the building itself.

Q: How did you find your vendors?

For catering, the MacLaren had actually provided a list of caterers that had been vetted and worked with the gallery before, which was truthfully, music to our ears and reduced the stress that comes with the daunting task of searching in what sometimes seems like a sea of potential wedding vendors. After all, they say food is one of the most important and memorable parts of a wedding (and boy, did Cravings Fine Food deliver)! As for cake, we had to get Alexandria of Finespuncakes onboard. A work of confectionary art worthy of a gallery presentation!

When it came time to choosing photographers, we found that social media platforms such as Instagram as well as website portfolios were the key for spotting photo styles which resonated with us and how we wanted our day captured. You’ll see pretty quickly which styles you lean more towards and which you definitely don’t like. It helped narrow down and refine our list massively when we were able to see the ways in which our photographers saw weddings unfold and which details they honed in on and captured. We were able to see through the eyes of our photographers and get to know them this way. For us, The Hennigars were on our radar fairly early as an acquaintance had hired them for their wedding a few years back, with stunning photos. Choosing the right photographer(s) was vital to us, and The Hennigars worked total magic when capturing our day for us!

For music, we had the absolute pleasure of working with Paul Lindsey of NightStyle Disc Jockeys. We found out about Paul’s services through his raving reviews on Weddingwire, and after some research and a phone interview, we had found our DJ! We found that when it came down to narrowing down and choosing a DJ, the most important step we took in our selection was calling and chatting (or if possible, meeting in person) to get to know the individual. Of all of the music vendors we had contacted, we clicked with Paul the best, and it made all the difference in the role that music played out for all of the different emotions of our big day!

Q: What moments of your day really stand out to you the most? 

That’s very difficult to answer. The whole day! Some of our favourite moments were when my brother gave a toast in the courtyard and all of the small encounters with our guests while snacking on our awesome grazing table and mingling before heading upstairs to the Carnegie room. The main floor is definitely an underrated space to the venue and we loved the time we got to spend there with guests.

Another one of our favourite moments is watching the sunset shine in through the windows as speeches were being done. They were emotional and hilarious at times, and seeing the sun set as they happened was a special transition before the dancing begun. 

And of course, the food and the dancing! The food was fantastic, the dancing wouldn’t stop, and the transition from one to the other in our set up just filled the room with so much love, laughter and happy tears. When sneaking up to see the room before guests came in to take their seats, the space looked beautiful, but the moment our guests came in, let me tell you, that room was overflowing with energy and love. We felt very grateful.

Q: Best wedding planning advice for someone engaged who has their eyes on the MacLaren as their venue?

  • Embrace the art that is exhibited and go check it out in person when it goes up! If you take the time to check it out early, you’ll have the chance to visualize how the art will look with your planned decor, and that small step can tie the entire room in a fantastic way! 
  • Get to know your vendors! See how you click on a personal level, as well as professional, and when interviewing, research questions to ask beforehand. There’s no such thing as a bad question, and we found that vendors appreciated when coming prepared. And don’t be afraid to ask Jess Comella and the MacLaren Events Services team for recommendations or advice if you’re feeling stuck. They’ve worked with many vendors before and they’ve seen the gallery space filled and decorated a variety of different ways. 
  • Go with your gut! 

The MacLaren was the first decision we’d made in the process of planning our wedding celebration and one of the best we’d made. If we were to plan our wedding all over again, the MacLaren Art Centre would be our venue of choice, every time. 

For information on booking your wedding at the MacLaren Art Centre, visit or contact Jessica Comella, Event Services at (705) 720-1044 ext. 256.

Special thanks to Jess and Tristan for sharing their story.

Photography by The Hennigars Photo