By Steve Hubrecht
Local marriage commissioner Andy Stuart-Hill will perform his final ceremonies this weekend before retiring from the role, after marrying more than 500 couples in the past decade.
Mr. Stuart-Hill who has long been known in the valley for his various volunteer roles, his world traveling, and for writing a book on the history of Panorama Mountain Village became even better known to almost 1,000 locals and visitors alike by joining them in matrimony on their wedding days, starting in May 2004.
Im just nearing the end of my tether, said Mr. Stuart-Hill.
The province only allows marriage commissioner certification to last for ten years, ensuring there is always a decent turnover of commissioners, and constantly allowing the opportunity for new people to step into the role. But it was in fact a shortage of marriage commissioners that first got Mr. Stuart-Hill into the job. It was shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized in British Columbia, which led 100-odd commissioners who didnt like the new law to quit in a huff, leaving the provinces Vital Statistics Agency scrambling to fill their shoes.
Quite literally, I got a phone call one day, asking if I was interested in becoming a marriage commissioner, said Mr. Stuart-Hill, adding that it may have been his volunteer efforts with various organizations, including a stint as the regional health system chair, that led somebody in the government to surmise hed be a good fit.
Its been a really positive experience, he said. Every weddings got a story to tell. Ive had a lot of adventures and odd things happen.
In a small town such as Invermere, Mr. Stuart-Hill is constantly bumping into people hes married. Walking into The Pioneer office, he was reminded that he married office administrator Amanda Murray and her husband seven years ago, sales representative Cheryl Williams sister a few weeks ago, and former Pioneer staff Dave and Kathy Sutherland (now of Daves Hot Pepper Jelly) back in 2006. And he just recently married local World Cup alpine skier Manny Osborne-Paradis.
Mr. Stuart-Hill has done marriages from Golden to Cranbrook and everywhere in between. The valleys many spectacular locations make for some memorable weddings and he particularly remembers the time he joined a couple in matrimony on the Delphine Glacier.
Tired of all the stress and pressure that usually accompanies wedding planning, this particular couple instead took all the money they had earmarked for the occasion and spent it on a helicopter to fly them, Mr. Stuart-Hill, and a photographer right up onto the glacier. The pilot and photographer ended up signing as the two witnesses for the ceremony.
Another memorable wedding Mr. Stuart-Hill officiated was just over a year ago, at the top of Kicking Horse Resort in Golden. The grooms parents, one living in New Zealand and one living in the Netherlands, were unable to make it to the ceremony, but were able to watch events unfold using Skype on two laptops placed in the front row (see the 2014 Columbia Valley Weddings magazine for the full story).
I just had to speak a little louder and they could hear me in the Netherlands and New Zealand, said Mr. Stuart-Hill. After the ceremony another person and I picked up the laptops and turned them 360 degrees so they could see the view. They loved it particularly the people watching from the Netherlands; they just went bananas. The mother was so moved she actually had to come later to Canada, so she could stand in that spot.
During one wedding at Nipika, Mr. Stuart-Hill married a couple while standing just steps from a 185-foot (56-metre) cliff and had to take care during the ceremony.
You dont get danger pay in this job, he said, with a grin. People who get married in this area seem to like unusual places, such as the edges of canyons, on rafts, in canoes.
Mr. Stuart-Hill even did a marriage ceremony in the Cranbrook hospital. The bride was involved in a skiing accident the day before the wedding and ended up in the hospital, unable to leave, so the venue was changed to the hospital.
Mr. Stuart-Hill said the best part of the job is getting to know the couples, their friends and family, and sharing in one of the most important days of their lives, which is something he will miss.
If there one aspect of the job he wont mind saying goodbye to, its the considerable amount of time spent on paperwork that the role requires.
Theres certainly a lot of paperwork, Im not going to miss that, he said. Theres also a lot of travel involved.
As a case in point of the travel involved, today (Friday, September 26th) will likely be Mr. Stuart-Hills last day as a marriage commissioner, and he will start it by performing a wedding in Panorama, followed by a drive down to Lake Lillian for a second wedding and continuing on to Copper Point Resort to do a third, before heading out to Nipika for a fourth. He will then drive back to the reception of the first wedding at Panorama.
Mr. Stuart-Hill, along with his wife Kelly, is originally from South Africa (they moved to Invermere in 1967). He will have plenty to keep him busy once his marriage commissioner days are done. Having travelled to 132 countries and becoming fascinated with the worlds deserts (hes been to all but two of the planets major deserts the Gobi in Mongolia, and another desert in Kazakhstan) he still has some destinations to visit. Hes also still actively involved in many local organizations in the valley (particularly the Rotary club) and, as if thats not enough, hes begun writing a second book about his life experiences.