How to Find an Officiant for Your Big Day

Need someone to preside over your wedding nuptials? Here’s the info on finding an officiant to help you get legally wed.

September 8, 2023 | | Community

Not everybody dreams about the pomp and circumstance of a traditional wedding at a place of worship. But getting married in a town hall or municipal office by a clerk or judge may not feel like the most romantic way to tie the knot either. This is where registered marriage officiants come in, to help you get married where and how you’d like.

But not just anybody can legally officiate. You might be inclined to ask a close friend or family member, but under the Marriage Act, for your marriage to be legally recognized, they’d need to be ordained by a church, religious group or humanist ministry registered with the province. There are also members of Indigenous communities in Ontario recognized by their bands, and the province, as entitled to perform marriages in their communities.

These officiants must ensure three basic steps are followed: The declaration of intent and vows; the confirmation that there’s no legal reason why the two people should not be married; and the pronouncement by the officiant that the two people are now officially married. This is followed by the signing of the marriage register by the officiant, the couple and witnesses.

Writing your vows

According to Sarah Sansom, a professional wedding planner and officiant who runs Day by Design in Orangeville, these legalities only take a few minutes, so couples have a lot of freedom to personalize the rest of their big day. Officiants are also a wealth of information on writing vows, planning a ceremony, and incorporating rituals that are meaningful for you and your partner. “Couples come to me and don’t realize that they have the power to choose literally whatever it is that they want for their marriage ceremony. What needs to legally be part of the wedding is very minimal; the rest is up to you.”

And couples do get creative. Caledon-based Mark Grice has been working as an officiant for five years. He has watched brides ride in on a tractor or horse, and has led a ceremony for a couple who stood in a snow-covered field holding hands under a fur muff. And he has seen dogs in bowties acting as ring bearers — including one that accidentally stepped on the bride’s veil and pulled it right off.

Pets are increasingly being included in wedding ceremonies and parties. Newlyweds Marcus Farmer and Darcy Martin made sure their beloved pooch also had flowers to wear to their photo shoot. By Lydia Ivy Photography.

On one occasion, Grice dressed as a baseball umpire to marry a couple at a baseball diamond. “It was really something. The bridesmaids and groomsmen came running out from the dugouts, and the couple exchanged vows at the home plate!”

Grice performs up to 30 ceremonies a year (he is also a well-known local artist, horse trainer and author), and he has witnessed many wedding day hiccups, such as that errant veil. But he has learned to roll with the punches, throw in a pinch of humour, and make sure the ceremony gets back on track. “Weddings are stressful and on the big day there’s a lot of moving parts, so you need to have a smooth plan.”

Setting the tone

Before the wedding, an officiant will usually meet with the couple at least twice to run through the ceremony, ensure the couple has applied for the marriage licence, and go over the vows to check that they are personal, but not inappropriate or crude. “I get that it’s fun to incorporate a little humour, but sometimes people take it very casually,” says Grice. He offers a range of vow templates and examples couples can personalize. “I have to explain to them that the vows are not a joke — they’re a public promise about how you are going to conduct yourself.”

Megan and Jon Lemon exchange vows outdoors at Cambium Farms with the help of a marriage officiant. By Magna Arnott Photography.

And even if you’re not getting hitched in a church, most officiants have the flexibility to incorporate religious aspects into your ceremony (but do check before you book; some religious institutions which ordain officiants may have firm guidelines). Cheryl McNeil of Precious Memories Officiant Services in Shelburne has, on occasion, been asked to read certain passages from the Bible for a ceremony. “I always give people options and help them create what they want,” says McNeil. She has married people in barns, backyards, legions, beaches and the charming, historic Corbetton Church on the grounds of the Museum of Dufferin. McNeil tied the knot herself earlier this year — congrats! — and for now appears on the provincial list of registered officiants under her former name, Cheryl Peterson.

If you’re engaged and starting to plan, it’s best to book your officiant well in advance (at least six months). The fee for officiants can range from $200 for a basic civil ceremony to $500 or more for a lengthier and more customized event. In the summertime some officiants find themselves booked every weekend, so if you have a very specific date in mind, act fast to ensure the wedding of your dreams.

Find a list of recognized officiants in your municipality at


About the Author More by Emily Dickson

Emily Dickson is a writer and editor living in Orangeville.

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