Years of Matrimonial
Memories in Jasper National Park
by Alisen Charlten
From runaway grooms to vows on the Athabasca River, one local marriage commissioner has seen it all. Last year, in a quiet ceremony behind Tekarra Lodge overlooking the meeting of the rivers, she married a couple whose best man was figure skating legend Kurt Browning. A few years previous, she joined the bridal party on a rafting trip to marry a couple on a small island in the middle of the river. She's even witnessed an incident involving a run-away groom who went back to the car for the paperwork and didn't come back. Thankfully, it ended well - the man shook off his fears and returned to be married a couple of hours later.
During her eleven years of service in Jasper, Beryl Cahill has joined countless couples from around the world in popular spots like Pyramid Island, the top of the Whistler's Mountain, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge or the Maligne Canyon lookout.
After 30 years as a justice of the peace, the progression to marriage commissioner was a natural step. Following encouragement from friend George Krefting and a phone call from Alberta's registrar, Cahill accepted the position and hasn't looked back since.
Many of the people that come to her are looking for an alternative to a
religious service and about 95% of the couples exchange their own vows in addition to the required legal parts of the ceremony. Cahill has, on request, read Apache Wedding Prayers or excerpts from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, but as a rule she is required to refrain from saying anything with religious references.
Though the work can at times be hectic, Cahill still enjoys it very much. "It's so pleasant because everybody's happy," said Cahill. "You meet people from all walks of life."
With the great popularity of weddings in JNP during peak summer months, Cahill and friend and fellow commissioner Gloria Kongsrud, usually try and coordinate their schedules to make the best use of their time and avoid running into each other at the same location.
Kongsrud has been commissioning for about seven years and credits Cahill for getting her involved. "It works out really well. We work together quite closely," said Kongsrud. She echoes her friend's enjoyment in sharing in a couple's special day. The happiness of the occasion and the chance to meet many interesting people is what Kongsrud said keeps her involved year after year.
When it comes to attire, Cahill describes herself and Kongsrud as relatively conservative in their styles. "I don't dress up as Elvis or anything like that," she said with a chuckle. For
Cahill, the biggest rule regarding her appearance is to never out-do the bride and don't wear white.
In the last decade, marriage has changed greatly and both men and women have had a chance to be part of one of the most contentious decisions in Canada's recent history. When same-sex marriage became legal across the country both Cahill and Kongsrud were prepared for numerous requests. "I thought there would be a flood of them but there was only one," said Cahill. Though Cahill ended up performing the ceremony, both women are expecting to be asked to take part in more gay weddings in the future.
The kaleidoscope of couples from all parts of the world has definitely made the work interesting, but Kongsrud has recently found great rewards in marrying many Jasper-raised couples. "I have found in recent years I've done a lot of ceremonies for locals and my children's friends when they've grown up," she said. After watching the kids grow up together she gets to participate in a day that will send them into a new stage in their lives. Few weekend jobs could be more rewarding.