Janine & Jordan Ives
September 6 | Guelph-Eramosa
When you create a business doing what you love with the person you love, in the place you call home, that business is bound to succeed. This is true of Stephen and Lyssa Caine, of Guelph-Eramosa, owners of CJ Country Events. Since creating the ultimate country venue for outdoor celebrations four years ago, the couple has established their rural property and equestrian farm as an ideal venue for weddings and events.
“A wedding will happen only once in a lifetime, and we want this to be the best day, the best experience,” said Lyssa.
And the pair had the infrastructure in place to make it happen. For years, the farm was a successful equestrian summer camp complete with cabin lodging, a pool and pond, full stables and a commercial kitchen that has fed generations of hungry campers. The site welcomed riders from across Wellington County, but also earned a reputation far beyond its borders, including international students who made the trip each summer.
And while the equestrian stable is still a hub for horse-backing riding lessons and competitions, the camp culture was beginning to shift away from overnight experiences for kids.
But, when one barn door closes, another one opens. The time was right to launch CJ Country Events.
“We have such a beautiful facility, so why not open it up to others?” Lyssa said, adding it was always her dream to make the farm available for special events, but weddings in particular, because she enjoys them.
“We offer a very park-like setting,” she said. “We have trees with pathways, and little secret areas in the trees, the stone ruins of an 1850’s barn, and an 1850’s log cabin serves as the location for our commercial kitchen and bar area. There is a large pond with a fountain. Plus we have ample parking. This property is gorgeous.”
Stephen added, “Couples have 70 acres to decide what spot best suits their event, with at least 18 acres of manicured lawns. There are many different spots for the ceremony.”
Lyssa says the facility allows them to host what she calls “elegant country” weddings, where the set-up is as fancy and sophisticated as the couple wishes, but still maintains a casual atmosphere.
“People want something simple. They want it kind of rustic; a nice relaxing, simple wedding,” she said.
“We start by asking the couple, ‘What do you want? What do you see? What traditional things do you want to see, and what don’t you want to see?’ … We will help them organize their event as little or as much as they wish.”
Together, they help the couple coordinate the day.
“We talk about who is coming to their wedding, the logistics involved, and we come up with the best solutions available for them,” Stephen said.
And this has offered the Caine’s the opportunity to see their work transforming a camp to an event venue come full circle, including the patrons. When Janine Thomson married Jordan Ives in September 2014, it was a very special occasion indeed.
“Janine worked for us, so there was a sentimental attachment because she came here as a camper, then a staffer and then got married here,” Lyssa recalls. “It means something to us because we saw her grow up and we’re still very close. It’s really something to see the next generation coming through – staff, campers, riders – and it’s great that we get to open up our doors to them here.”
For Janine, the location was ideal for the complete wedding day, but was so the experience.
“I was looking for something outdoorsy, and they were in the early stages of opening the facility,” she said. “We are really outdoorsy people and we wanted something very simple … and nothing showy. We really wanted to keep it simple.”
She adds, “Lyssa was amazing. I am not really a big wedding person, so I didn’t have a vision … she pretty much came up with all the great ideas. She was on the ball, she was organized, and she got contacts for me. Lyssa pretty much did it all. She was like a wedding planner.”
One of the benefits to this locale is the commercial kitchen, which allows the event caterers to do minor preparations and serve.
“The kitchen was a camp kitchen, not a restaurant, so we ask caterers to come see it, and decide how best to work in it,” Lyssa said.
She adds, “We work with any type of caterer the couple chooses. We don’t have a selected vendors list, so it’s open to the couple’s decision of their choice of caterers, but we do have a list of caterers we’ve worked with, if people would like recommendations.”
Couples booking CJ Country Events are also responsible for hiring their own DJ, renting a tent and dance floor, and hiring the officiant to perform the ceremony. They are also required to obtain the liquor license and secure special event insurance. Smart Serve bartenders are provided by the venue.
The Caine’s agree that a casual barbecue theme is common for the country-appeal of the setting. Food trucks have also been successful and the location is ideal, as they can pull up serve.
Lyssa notes that unless the caterer brings servers, she has staff that will perform the task, and her team will also be responsible for the set up and clean up.
By offering an atmosphere that can accommodate the ceremony and the reception, and all things related to the event itself, the Caine’s offer an affordable option for weddings.
“A lot of people don’t want to spend twenty to thirty thousand dollars on a wedding. They want to get their lives started and not be in debt,” Lyssa said.
“We have all kinds of wedding décor, so people don’t have to rent it,” she said, noting they have accumulated an inventory of props and items, such as lanterns, table runners, lighting, and of course, the clean hay bales sometimes used for seating, with the linens to drape over them. On occasion, they have purchased items a couple wants for their day, knowing they can be repurposed for other guests in the future.
For instance, for Janine’s wedding, the ceremony was held along the edge of the old stone bank barn wall along the garden pathway. A large wood trellis was design-built by Stephen for the couple.
“They put in so much effort … it was a big labour of love, this wedding,” Janine recalls. “They built things like the trellis for us. Wine barrels were all pressure washed and stained and a bar table was created. It was for the future of the business but that’s where it started. They put in a lot of work and we were pretty speechless when it came time to thank them … because they did so much.”
Included in the CJ Country Events wedding package is the ability to host the rehearsal dinner at the site, or to host events in the days leading up to the event.
“The couple gets access to the whole property from the Tuesday prior to the wedding, right up until their wedding day,” Stephen said. “They can set up in the days before the wedding, with the tents going up days ahead and take time to decorate, and we’re here to help.”
Lyssa believes this is the best part of the event. “We want them to have an experience of seeing the wedding come together, of seeing the process so they can make changes and see it come together and enjoy the experience.”
“Getting to have days to get ready? You won’t find that anywhere,” she adds. “It’s that full experience, not just come in, set up and go out.”
“We want it to be personal,” Stephen said. “Couples meet us and they see the two of us as a partnership, and when they see that they know we’re here to help … tell us what you want in your wedding and we’ll tell you if you can do it. And if we can’t, we’ll let you know.” So far, there hasn’t been a request the pair couldn’t accommodate.
They encourage couples to make use of the grounds for such things as engagement photos, for ‘save the date’ cards, or do a reveal photography session prior to the actual ceremony, to reduce stress during the wedding day.
“Lyssa and Stephen are extremely flexible, and there is so many places where you can have the ceremony,” Janine said. “If there’s something you want to do tell them and they’ll make it happen… they have so many contacts and people they know.”
The inclusiveness of the venue also means the wedding parties have private space to prepare. A large cabin, with a fireplace and country cottage décor serves as the site for the bride and her attendants to dress, do their hair and make-up, and have their bridal party photography done. The groomsmen also have a cabin that serves as a lounge with a games room.
“they can do it all here,” Lyssa said.
Naturally, horses are part of the experience. A beautiful horse and carriage will usher in the bride and her wedding party onto the grounds, with the option of one horse or a team of Clydesdales.
Though Janine took some convincing to make use of the horse and carriage, as she thought it might be too showy, she is glad she did.
“I would recommend having the horse and carriage. It was a really nice touch,” Janine said. “Duchess (the Clydesdale) has such a presence that when she comes around the corner, she’s so beautiful.”
Experience has taught Lyssa one sound piece of advice she shares with wedding couples: remember who your guests are and think of their needs.
“This is a guest experience,” she said. “And while you’re taking time for your photos, let’s entertain your guests.”
CJ Country Event staff will set up games like horseshoes, croquet and others, while offering a cocktail hour.
“We invite guests to walk the property, take a seat by the pond,” Lyssa said. “They can enjoy a park-like setting without needing to go anywhere.”
“If you have children coming to the wedding, we’ll provide activities for the kids to be entertained and we have staffers to coordinate and monitor that,” she adds, noting in some cases, the couples have rented bouncy castles to make it fun for the tiny guests.
Attention must also be paid to guests with accessibility issues too.
“We’re as accessible as a farm can be,” Stephen said. “We’ve rented golf carts in the past to help people get around the property, but we can often drive them down to the ceremony in a car. We get a sense of what the needs are and work with them.”
As the night goes on, fire pits with comfortable seating offer guests an opportunity to get away from the music of the reception party and enjoy a conversation away from the crowd.
“It got chilly as the night went on, so Lyssa brought out blankets for our guests to be cozy in their Muskoka chairs,” Janine said.
When it’s time to wrap up the party, the Caine’s take care of that too.
“We do all the clean-up, take the garbage away, coordinate all the rental companies coming to get the gear, and we can store any items for couples that need to get it later,” Stephen said. “It’s all a part of what we do.”
Just minutes from Guelph or Fergus, CJ Country Events offers the beauty of a country location within an easy distance, and its reputation for affordable and flexible usage is making it a popular wedding destination.
For the hosts, making wedding dreams come true is making their business dreams a reality, and reinvigorating their vision for their family farm. It’s the heart and soul of everything they do.
“We want the experience to be fantastic,” said Stephen. “It’s a reflection of the wedding and we want people to remember it as an amazing experience – and it’s a reflection on us too. We are opening our home to them. Our farm is our home, and we want them to feel welcome and remember it.”