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This article was published 6/7/2018 (935 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
ELMA — It’s under water today, but in 2012 Joy and Scott Sutyla got married on a patch of bedrock in the middle of the Whitemouth River.
"You can’t see it — we’ve had a lot of rain — but we were married on a rock shelf right over there," Scott says, pointing from the dock off his property in Elma. "We had the river and the train bridge in the background and all the guests watching from the shore."
Fast-forward to today, and Joy says the pair never planned to be in the wedding venue business, but the success of their own nuptials and the urging of friends convinced them their River’s Edge Resorts cottage-rental business could be so much more.
Their grand opening in June couldn’t have come at a better time, says wedding planner Leanne Rajotte, who says demand for unique, country weddings couldn’t be higher.
"We don’t have enough venues, people are booking two years in advance," Rajotte, owner of Prairie Sky Events in Anola, says. "People enjoy the feeling of being outside, which you really don’t get in the city."
At River’s Edge, workers are putting the finishing touches on the pavilion, a 40- by 80-foot open-air structure that can hold up to 200 guests. Joy estimates the season will run from May to early October, with plans for a massive stone fireplace to extend that season just a bit.
A patio, a dock, a forested area and the pavilion — and river water permitting, the rock in the river — can all be rolled into plans for a ceremony. "We never stop thinking of new ideas," Joy says.
Rajotte says the trend towards rural wedding venues is driven by a growing desire for unique weddings. She estimates there are a dozen within driving distance of Winnipeg and Brandon, with enough demand to justify adding venues.
"It’s not that hotels are stuffy, but (they’re) the norm. People want something different," she says. "It’s just magical: you can do the ceremony, the pictures and the reception, it’s a hole-in-one."
The Sutylas began River’s Edge Resorts renting cottages supplied by Scott’s other business, EZ Log Structures, which is a distributor for Estonia-based Tene Kaubandus. The cottages come as a kit, with numbered pieces of milled lumber that fit together like Lego.
"It took me three hours to build those," he said, pointing to the EZ Log structures serving as restrooms for the pavilion. "From start to finish."
The pavilion itself is a post-and-beam structure using a fair degree of local craftsmanship, from the spruce trees Scott fell and milled into purlins and other supports, to the woodworker creating custom doors and the nearby Hutterite colony that provided the metal roof.
Scott is using his background as a mechanical engineering technologist specializing in automation to make the venue as easy to use as possible. He’ll be able to use his smartphone to lower the powered roll shutters for bad weather and dim the lights for dancing.
Pricing is $4,200 for a day wedding and $4,999 for the weekend, which includes use of the cabins. The weekend package gives couples the freedom to check in on Friday and not tear down until Sunday.
Scott has arranged with a charter company to provide bus service from Winnipeg for $20 per person.
River’s Edge already has weddings booked for this year and next and has fielded inquiries for 2020, Scott says. He expects interest to take off as couples start to post photos of weddings on social media. Aside from wooing wedding planners such as Rajotte, the Sutylas expect the bulk of their business to come from word of mouth and social media.
As with many such rural venues, catering is arranged by the customers. Scott says Danny’s Whole Hog is on board to be one such caterer, and they hosted an event catered by Winnipeg restaurateur Mandel Hitzer, of Deer + Almond.
Elma is an hour east of Winnipeg at the corner of Highway 15 and Highway 11.
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter
Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.