A San Francisco couple returned to Vancouver for a joyful day of love and laughter
One look at Melissa Joaquin and Isaac Buwembo and it’s clear that they’re made for each other, but it took a persistent third party to bring the two together. Melissa’s childhood friend, Christina, had met Isaac through the UBC Global Outreach Student Association, and after scoping out his book and music collection, was convinced she knew the perfect girl for him.
But busy with school and active social lives, neither Melissa nor Isaac was looking for a relationship. Christina pressed on for months, eventually resorting to a bait-and-switch to make the meet happen. “She invited me out for coffee, but it turned into dinner with her and Isaac,” laughs Melissa. “Our first date was chaperoned.”
Christina, it turns out, had been right to play matchmaker. “I knew within a few months that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her,” says Isaac. Six years later, the couple decided to make it official: Isaac had been accepted to an MBA program in San Francisco, and getting married before moving to the U.S. just made sense. Though the decision was a logical one, Isaac managed to infuse the engagement with romance, getting down on one knee and surprising Melissa with a modern, custom-designed ring on her birthday.
“It was the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, even though I knew it was coming,” says Melissa, smiling.
They set a date for the following August, and jumped right into planning, booking Melissa’s family church and the UBC Boathouse. The spacious facility on the banks of the Fraser River was the first reception venue they looked at, but it left a lasting impression. “The iconic modern architecture of the Boathouse really stuck with us,” Melissa says. Paired with simple décor — bunting in the windows, fresh floral arrangements on the tables — the design of the space took centre stage.
By August 2012, a full year before the wedding, the couple had secured the big elements — the venue, caterer and photographer — and worked long-distance from their new San Francisco home with the help of family to lock in the final details. Melissa’s smartly organized shared spreadsheets kept things flowing smoothly (“The vendors made fun of her, but it turned out to be really helpful,” teases Isaac), but the two credit their day-of wedding coordinator, Mandy Wong, for making the day a breeze. “She was invaluable,” Isaac says.
When the big day arrived, 100 of the couple’s closest family and friends gathered at Holy Cross Church, and to the sounds of Melissa’s brother strumming the ukulele, Melissa walked down the aisle in a flowing, floor-skimming Vera Wang dress and a show-stopping pair of heels from New York designer Kathryn Amberleigh. Isaac, in turn, donned a sharp blue suit with his own special accessory: an engraved tie clip made from ukulele wood by Melissa’s brother.
After a playful photo shoot with the bridal party, the reception kicked off with a joyful, traditional Ugandan dance performed by Isaac’s family members. Melissa’s heritage was celebrated in its own way, with a classic Filipino pig roast. Emelle’s Catering provided additional fare, serving up summery bites like crispy coconut shrimp and skewers of fresh watermelon, basil and mozzarella, and late in the evening, happy guests piled their plates at the poutine bar for a midnight snack.
For their first dance, Melissa and Isaac surprised everyone by busting out choreographed moves to Michael Jackson’s “I Wanna Rock With You.”
“I’m not a big dancer, but my mom was impressed, which means I was convincing,” laughs Isaac. He describes the ensuing dance party as “pretty epic.”
“There were B-boy moves, backflips . . . even my grandma got in there, going crazy.”
At 2 a.m., the night finally came to an end, but guests left with a wedding favour that would last a lifetime: a Douglas fir sapling. “We love the symbolism of ‘growing with us,’ ” Melissa explains.
Now happily married, Melissa and Isaac are still thrilled with the memory of their perfect day. “Soak it up,” Isaac advises future wedding couples. “Your memory of the day is like remembering a dream.”