Last year I read a graveyard themed Nancy Millar history book (Remember Me as I Pass By) and this year I turned to something lighter, a book about weddings in western Canada.
Like Remember Me, Once Upon a Wedding is armchair-light history, a brief romp back through western Canadian weddings from the 1800s through to the 1940s. Millar’s eye is drawn to newspaper announcements of weddings, old family photos and heirloom wedding dresses, and I once again did a lot of googling to see if I could find photos of the wedding or the dress she discusses in each story. She flits from Victoria BC’s fancy upper class weddings, where every detail was recorded in the society page news (the dress material, the type of flowers, how many of each type of gift, where the couple was honeymooning) to hard scrabble prairie weddings where the wedding party took time away from harvest to attend (there was one good dress, no newspaper spread). She describes (and includes a photo of) a residential school wedding between two indigenous students- especially poignant given all the horrific residential school news this year.
Although Millar doesn’t do a lot of deep introspecting, she does give a lot of details that let you do the same- earlier on, brides who could afford it would order the dress/the pattern/the fabric from Europe. My assumption was that this was because Europe was the best/most fashionable, but maybe it also speaks to the kinds of fabric you could buy locally (not a lot of use for silk in a pioneer market?). I also saw these references drop off somewhat in the 40s, which I’m assuming speaks to the war (brides couldn’t afford it, but Europe also was otherwise occupied)- from the Dressed podcast I listen to, I think this is about the same time that New York went from a fashion backwater to the leading edge powerhouse.
I really enjoyed this, but I feel like my expectations were well set going in. Millar’s writing isn’t fancy- folksy would be the kindest way to phrase- and her history isn’t academic but designed for the casual reader. This being said, she is writing about everyday people, usually exited to be embarking on one of their major life events- a wedding! These aren’t stories that I feel like often get told, except maybe at family reunions. The struggles and the joys of ordinary people, crystallized around a joyful event like a wedding, was delightful.
Bingo tag for this one is Home- this is local history (my home) but also speaks to the homes and hopes all these young couples were looking forward to building.