The Chapel at Stanley Park

Couples are travelling from all over the world to exchange their vows in Vancouver's only wedding chapel.
Story Jennifer Slater

Destination weddings are not a recent phenomenon for Japanese couples. Places like Puerto Vallarta, Maui and the Bahamas have long been favourites for couples seeking their dream wedding. Compared to this list of tropical paradises, one would think Vancouver, B.C., an unlikely choice, but the wedding chapel at Stanley Park is making Vancouver the new matrimonial hotspot.

Near the entrance of Stanley Park sits a concrete building, covered with a four-storey mural, and shrouded in mystery. Although the building is not even ten years old, it is already legendary. Built by Dr. Stanley Ho, a Hong Kong businessman, it is believed to have been his private residence, complete with an automated car elevator. While the Lord Stanley building does in fact have an elaborate parking system, it is actually comprised of three rental suites and a commercial space on the ground floor, which houses Vancouver’s only wedding chapel.

Highly Appealing

Minister Allan Burnett and his wife, Betty Ann, opened the chapel in April 2001. Couples, who want a church wedding but do not belong to any particular church, often have difficulty finding a place to get married. The Burnetts saw the need for a designated wedding chapel. “What we’re doing here is something no one has done before,” says Allan. The busiest season is between May and September when Allan has performed as many as 48 weddings in a month. “To put that in perspective,” Allan adds, “that’s probably more weddings than the average minister would do in a lifetime.” The Burnetts had no idea their chapel would be such a success, both locally and internationally.

Part of the chapel’s appeal is its beautiful interior. Most people are surprised by how quiet it is inside the chapel—the high quality construction of the building keeps the sounds of the city outside. The peaceful environment is further provided by the stunning leaded-glass windows created by North Vancouver artist Andreas Mladek. Inspired by Asian design, the windows show an abstract landscape of bamboo stalks. Set against the ivory walls of the chapel, the clear glass allows for the colours of the park to show through—a backdrop that changes with each season.

While Vancouver is a popular wedding destination for couples from all over the world, a significant number come from Japan. For Masumi and Yasuyuki Kajima, it was the spirit of adventure that brought them to Vancouver in September of 2002. Escaping the expense of a traditional Japanese wedding is a motive for many couples, but not for this one. Initially, they just wanted to take a trip somewhere together since neither had ever left Japan. When they learned about the chapel at Stanley Park from Watabe Weddings Inc., a Japanese company that has coordinated destination weddings since 1964, they decided to get married in Vancouver. “It was an easy decision,” Masumi says.

Masumi and Yasuyuki were amazed that their wedding could be tailored to exactly what they wanted. “The wedding packages in Japan don’t have options to choose from,” says Masumi. “And a traditional Japanese wedding is expensive.”

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A Change in Wedding Styles

Susan Hyatt, of Susan’s Weddings in Paradise, has noticed a change in wedding styles over the 17 years she has been in business. “It’s more towards the couple and what they want rather than etiquette. I tailor their weddings to suit their dreams, their wishes and their budget.” The chapel at Stanley Park has options ranging from the basic service to horse-drawn carriage rides and catered receptions.

The Kajimas chose a package that included a western-style wedding ceremony at the chapel at Stanley Park, limousine service, photographs and dinner for four at the Salmon House on the Hill, where they were presented with a personalized miniature wedding cake. In preparation for their wedding ceremony, Watabe Weddings provided them with a videotape of other celebrations, a translation of what is being said and an English script with the instructions: please practise.

Allan, who has learned enough Japanese phrases to do the vows and ring exchange, gives the couples the choice to say their vows in Japanese or in English. “Almost all of them like to do it in English,” he says, “because they videotape the ceremony and take it home to show their friends and families.”

Yasuyuki liked getting married in English. “The words are so casual. Sometimes Japanese is too formal and that makes me uncomfortable.”

With destination weddings, Allan often meets the couple for the first time just half an hour before the ceremony. His smile and relaxed manner quickly cross any language barrier and put people at ease. During the rehearsal, he sometimes uses humour to help a nervous couple relax. When Allan says to the groom, “You may kiss the bride,” there is always a shocked look on their faces. In Japanese culture, kissing in public is generally not done. The first rehearsal kiss is usually so quick that the photographer doesn’t get a chance to catch it on film, so Allan says yukkuri, which means ‘slowly’ in Japanese. The couple usually laughs and then kisses again. Masumi giggles when she remembers kissing the groom in front of everybody. “I’ve never seen my parents kiss.”

Allan has a gift for personalizing each wedding. He gets to know a couple and uses a style that suits them, sometimes with surprising results. One Saturday he had two weddings back-to-back. The first couple liked to laugh, so Allan added some humour to the ceremony. This set the tone for the whole service and by the end everybody was sore from laughing so hard. The next wedding had a tenderhearted groom who began sobbing the minute the bride started down the aisle. Before the service was over everyone, including the minister, was crying. “The beautiful thing about it,” Allan says, “was that for both of those weddings everybody left saying that was the nicest wedding they’ve ever been to.”

The chapel at Stanley Park began its fourth year in April 2004. For the Burnetts it is more than a business, it is a ministry and a service to people from all over the globe. Their vision is that this would be the flagship of many more chapels. “I love what I do and I’m interested in the people. My number one passion is to make that wedding what they want it to be.” The efforts of the Burnetts have helped many couples, from Japan, from Vancouver and from all over the world, do exactly that.

For more information on the chapel at Stanley Park visit The Chapel online.