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Northland couple gets creative with border water wedding

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INTERNATIONAL FALLS, MN -- The pandemic has forced engaged couples to either move their weddings to another date or get creative.

One couple on the Canadian border got very creative.

High school sweethearts John and Erika Bartkowski have spent most of their relationship separated by the border.

"John's American and I'm Canadian," said Erika Bartkowski.

After being introduced by friends eight years ago, they've traveled back and forth through customs, from John's home in International Falls, to Erika's in Fort Francis, Ontario.

The pandemic then closed that border, and for a while, their hopes for a wedding in July.

"The original plan was always July 11th, and when Covid happened, we kept waiting for the border to open," said Erika.

But when it became clear the border would stay shut, they vowed to keep the date, by doing things a little differently.

"It was difficult figuring out how we were going to do the boats," said John Bartkowski.

That's right. Boats.

Nearby Rainy Lake is split by the international border.

A ceremony on the water, on that invisible border, could be the answer.

"My mom had talked to a supervisor at customs," said Erika. "He looked into everything for us, got back to us and let us know what we had to do."

So using a GPS, they marked a spot on the water that also sat on the border.

Canadian friends and family boated to it from one side, and Americans from the other.

"It's not a quick ride," Jay Bartkowski, father of the groom. "Took us an hour to get there, but we were blessed with a perfect day."

With the bride, groom, minister, witnesses and "dog of honor" in one boat, and everyone else in pontoons on either side, John and Erika made it official.

After the ceremony, there was a quick champaigne toast, and residents of each country went back to their respective shores.

It wasn't the original plan, but maybe even better.

"They overcame the things we're all dealing with right now," said Jay Bartkowski.

"I have to say, it was nice because we got to be casual and I got to wear shorts," said John.

"It was definitely one for the books," said Erika. "Something we'll never forget."

John was able to be on the same boat as his bride and other Canadians, because he is able to travel to Canada for work.

He rode out to the wedding and back from the Canadian side.

When the pandemic is over, John and Erika are planning to have a bigger ceremony and reception with the many people who couldn't fit onto five pontoons.

Dan Wolfe

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