buck and doe drawing hatsBy Jon Farmer

When I graduated from high school I thought that I was finished with school busses. So there was something nostalgic about standing outside of a local arena on a Saturday night in June, looking expectantly up the street for a bus. I've reached the midpoint in my twenties where friends are sprinting forward into the responsibility of adulthood, buying houses, and getting married. Many of those milestones have room for spectators. Wedding season comes with invitations but in my part of rural Ontario, late spring is Buck and Doe season and it is open to anyone with a ticket.

The bus pulled in, rumbled to a stop and the doors swung open. I crossed the gravel parking lot and called a hello climbed the steps to greet a friend sitting in the front seat with a clipboard, ticket booklets, and a Ziploc bag full of money. It was ten o'clock and the bus had already made one trip to the venue, a curling club in a nearby village. You can't host Buck and Does in Owen Sound anymore so the bride and groom organized busses to help keep guests from drinking and driving. We waited while high school friends and strangers arrived in cabs and trickled on to the bus. Some had already purchased tickets, some bought tickets as they boarded. When it looked like no one else was coming, the door closed and the bus started. We drove 20 minutes west to the Allenford Curling Club – popularly known as the ACC.

As a phenomenon Buck and Does go by many names and are mainly confined to parts of rural Ontario and Manitoba. According to Tom Fisher who manages the club, the ACC hosts 10 to 12 Buck and Does a year between the middle of April and the start of July. The business helps the club stay afloat, bridging the curling and summer seasons. Although the ACC's 'leave it as you found it' policy continues to work well, other facilities have had problems. Drinking is a pillar of the events and trouble sometimes follows. After a brawl at a Buck and Doe in 2008, the village of Chatsworth clamped down on alcohol consumption at public facilities. The Chatsworth arena banned Buck and Does entirely. With fewer spaces available, the ACC now hosts Buck and Does for couples from across two counties.

When the bus pulled into the parking lot we gathered our belongings and filed into what is usually the ice. Members of the bridal party met us at the door wearing matching 'bridesmaid' t-shirts, traded tickets for hand stamps, and oriented us to the room. They pointed out tables lined with raffle prizes and the half dozen games along the far wall. Other members of the bridal party were running the games with pouches hanging from their waists to more easily make change and distribute strings of raffle ticket prizes. Another bridesmaid stood behind a table near the door, selling tickets for beer and the raffle. Friends and family of the bride and groom mingled, circled in front of the bar, chatted at tables, and gathered around the games. I greeted more friends from high school – the kind you run into randomly once or twice a year – traded some stories and made my way to the washer toss game staffed by the groom's brother. I knew I didn't stand a chance at dart poker or the hammer game.

Buck and Does are primarily fundraising events. Weddings are expensive and offsetting the costs with a party can help young couples minimize the debt of financing their big day. The Huffington Post reported that the average cost of a Canadian wedding in 2013 was $32,358. For young couples still trying to establish a foothold in the professional world the costs associated with a wedding can be overwhelming. My friends are aiming to spend a modest $15,000 on their wedding – that amount still puts a lump in my throat as an underemployed 20-something.

Selling tickets, hosting a bar, holding raffles, and providing pay-per-play games gathers much needed cash to support the day. The Buck and Doe I walked into cost $4000 to throw. The bride and groom sold 300 tickets although only about 200 people showed up. They recouped much of that expense by returning unused bar stock but the cost doesn't account for their time. With months of planning required – much like the weddings they help to finance – Buck and Does take a lot of work and capital. But these events aren't all about money.

At the end of the night, after the busses had returned the crowd and the preliminary cleanup was over, I rode home with the bride and groom. I asked a question I thought was obvious: why throw a Buck and Doe? They responded predictably with the financial incentive but another part of their answer surprised me. Hosting a party allows friends and family who didn't make the guest list to participate in their wedding process. As our headlights lit the road back to Owen Sound, the bride explained that they've invited 150 people to the wedding and that if everyone comes then the ceremony and reception alone will cost them $10,000. "Cut the guest list" tops the cost reduction tips on most wedding advice sites but that simple action raises another questions: why bother with a weddings to begin with?

Both the bride and groom come from large and tight knit families. They have extended friend groups and those relationships serve important roles in their lives. They're having a wedding both to formalize their commitment to each other and to thank the people who helped them get to where – and who – they are. At some level their wedding is going to be a celebration of all of their relationships but they had to draw the line somewhere so the guest list was capped. People were left out but the Buck and Doe invites them back into the process.

The last 45 minutes of the night were my favourite. The toonies had all been tossed, the dance contests were over, the raffle prizes had been won, and the only thing left to do was visit, play, and eat the left-over food. One of the groom's cousins and I took turns firing foam darts across the arena. Free from their responsibilities, the bridal party relaxed and chatted. Cousins caught up on family stories. The bride and groom answered questions about their summer and their future plans. People laughed. With music playing and people lingering, it felt like a party. They could never have thrown that kind of shindig in their two-bedroom home. They won't get to be so casual on their wedding night.

Buck and Does receive some criticism from people who resent what they interpret as money-grabs to fund elaborate weddings. Some call them cheap but I wonder whether those same people expect to be invited to beautiful weddings with a good spread and an open bar. Weddings can be expensive but they are important events; they bring families and communities together, mark significant life changes, and make support networks visible. When there are more people to include than the guest list can hold, Buck and Does let whole communities participate. I may have out grown school busses but I haven't outgrown helping or celebrating with friends. In fact, the older I get, the more important it seems.



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