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Engagement Parties With a Cover Charge

In the conventional sequence of events, first comes love, then comes marriage … then comes a massive bill for the wedding.

And it’s an especially expensive time to get married. Like the United States, which has seen a sharp increase in wedding costs because of inflation and a wedding boom, Canada is experiencing a similar rise, with nuptials costing an average of 30 percent more than they did before the pandemic.

Engagement and weddings gifts — whether cash or material goods — have always been one way to offset wedding costs. But one tradition some experts believe dates back to the 1940s in the Canadian province of Ontario cuts right to the chase, and early: Couples there often host what are known as stag and doe parties in advance of a wedding with the explicit goal of raising money for it.

There are a few things that are essential to any stag and doe, said Carrie Mifsud, owner of Jack of All Spades, a stag and doe game rental and planning business in Grimsby: entry tickets, raffle prizes and games.

The cost of an entry ticket varies depending on the region. In a really rural area, it might cost five Canadian dollars (over $3), Ms. Mifsud said. As you get closer to Toronto, it could set you back 50 dollars (about $35). Additional funds are typically raised from the sale of raffle tickets — prizes may include liquor, tickets to hockey games or travel vouchers — or drink tickets. It’s not uncommon for more people to attend a stag and doe than the wedding itself.

A guest plays beer pong at Ms. Woods and Mr. Blake’s gathering.Credit…Ian Willms for The New York Times

Tina Fetner, a sociology professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, said the stag and doe was reflective of the general culture of the region: “Here in Ontario we have a very robust culture of sports teams having fund-raisers every year to support the teams,” she said. Alas, why not apply the same method to a wedding?

Stag and does are “something I’ve always known since I was little,” said Mikaela Woods, a 28-year-old business owner in Smithville. One of her earliest memories, she said, was of being at her mother and stepfather’s stag and doe: “I remember my mom being hung over the next day,” she said with a laugh.

So naturally, as Ms. Woods and her fiancé, Benjamin Blake, a 28-year-old data analyst, plan their April 2024 wedding in Mexico, a stag and doe seemed like a no-brainer; they held theirs on New Year’s Eve at the fairgrounds in Binbrooke, a village in a rural section of Hamilton.

The raffle prize was intended to be a draw for party goers. The couple recently closed on a condo in Mexico that they intend to rent out as an Airbnb. “‘Let’s use it to our advantage’” Ms. Woods thought, “and have our grand prize as one week free in the Airbnb and $500 in flight credit,” she said. “Hopefully that’s enticing enough for lots of people to come.”

In the end, about 200 people attended, and the couple raised 10,000 Canadian dollars (almost $7,500).

Stag and doe parties are “something I’ve always known since I was little,” said Ms. Woods, seen here kissing her fiancé, Mr. Blake, at theirs.Credit…Ian Willms for The New York Times

Part of the charm of the stag and does is the small town-ness of it all. “A lot of my friends who haven’t grown up in small towns or rural communities don’t seem to be as aware of them,” said Stephanie Kirkham, 30. “Basically, it’s people coming together to donate money toward and celebrate the couple because weddings are expensive.”

Ms. Kirkham, a teacher, and Jeremy Bell, a 38-year-old who works in heavy equipment sales and services, held their event on New Year’s Eve in Perth, where they live, and took donations at the door instead of charging an admission fee. They had a guest list in advance; more often, couples will post invitations on Facebook making the event fairly open to anyone who wants to pay.

Games — especially one called “toonie toss” — are a mainstay at many stag and does, said Emily Desjardins, 23, who held her party last month with her fiancé, Brandon Kelly. They featured toonie toss at the event. Here’s how it generally works: A bottle of liquor is placed in the middle of the dance floor, and guests take their “toonies” (two-dollar coins) and try to slide them as close to the bottle as possible.

“Whoever has the toonie closest to the bottle gets to keep it, and we get to keep the toonies for our wedding,” explained Ms. Desjardins, who works in human resources and lives in Newington. “It’s very Canadian,” she added.

Josie Blake, a guest at Ms. Woods and Mr. Blake’s party, collects guesses as to how many bottle caps were in a large jug. The person closest won a 24-pack of beer.Credit…Ian Willms for The New York Times
Rob Ragzz, another guest at the party, participates in the “toonie toss” portion of the evening.Credit…Ian Willms for The New York Times

Other games can include beer pong tournaments, a bra toss — where you throw balls into the cups of bras nailed onto a board — and a very specific game that involves toilet plungers, paint and sandpaper.

One other advantage to hosting a stag and doe: It’s a way to celebrate with people who can’t make it to the wedding.

This was part of the appeal for Ms. Woods and Mr. Blake, whose destination wedding limits the guest list. “We are just going to have a small wedding, maybe maximum 50 people in Mexico,” Ms. Woods said. With the stag and doe, even people not attending could still party together.

But it wouldn’t be a wedding event without a little grousing and resentment. “We always joke that one day I am going to pretend to get married because you don’t get any bang for your buck or there is no return for you” as an unmarried person, said Robert Cannone, an educator in Vaughan who is a frequent guest at such shindigs.

And there is also a sense of duty. “You have to go,” said Steven Ferracane, a teacher in Woodbridge. “If it’s a brother-in-law or a close friend, you are obligated.”

Nick D’Urzo, who works in road building in Toronto who estimated he goes to 15 stag parties a year (sometimes they are single-sex but still fund-raising), said he genuinely enjoyed the parties he attended. “I always seem to bump into someone who I haven’t seen in years, and it makes it worthwhile,” he said.

Another part of the appeal, Ms. Kirkham said, is that stag and doe parties are simply something to do. Small towns “don’t have a nightlife, we don’t have these big places,” she said. “So what better time to find a little hall that we can rent and have a D.J. so that people can come out and do something?”

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