The Social: A Manitoba tradition

The wedding fundraisers are almost as ubiquitous as perogies and cold weather


John Woods/CP

When Mary Wheeler got married in 1975, her wedding was a relatively quiet affair. She was 21 when she walked down the aisle in a Treherne, Manitoba church, and wore a dress she sewed herself.

“Back then, planning a wedding in a farm town in Manitoba meant you only needed to call five people,” she says. “You call a minister, a caterer, a reception hall and your families.”

Wheeler says that she and her husband-to-be might have liked a splashier reception, but at the time they were more concerned with saving up for married life. To help the young couple get started in a new home, their parents threw them a social – a big Manitoba party to raise money for a soon-to-be-married couple.

“I think socials were a fairly new thing in the ’70s,” Wheeler says, “but they’ve become a Manitoba tradition.”

Over the years, the customs of a social – sometimes known as a “Winnipeg Social” – remain largely unchanged, and many Manitobans say it’s as much a part of their culture as cold weather and perogies. A few months before a couple gets married, hundreds of friends and family are encouraged to buy tickets to a big, pre-wedding bash, normally held in a legion hall or community centre. The organizers hire a DJ or a band, and all the guests are encouraged to buy raffle tickets and reasonably priced beverages, before enjoying a “late lunch”, normally a spread of rye bread, cold cuts and mustard, close to midnight.

But while nearly half a century has done little to change the nature of socials, many Manitobans feel that wedding fundraisers no longer fit the changing nature of marriage. With many couples getting married later in life, usually after they have established a career and already share a home with their fiancé, most brides and grooms already have the household tools they need, and are capable of buying anything else themselves. Socials are now usually held to raise money for the wedding itself, with future brides and grooms making no bones about asking family, friends and coworkers to shell out.

“These days, people are pretty blunt about it,” says Della Cogar, a Portage la Prairie business owner who married in 1981. While she enjoys socials, and always buys a ticket if she knows the couple, she says that the constant hunt for cash can be a bit excessive, especially when there are so many worthy charities in need of money. “It’s all a bit much for a party.”

Despite backlash from older generations, socials are more popular than ever in Manitoba, and are turning even bigger profits. Manitoba couples are being more creative about how they raise money, too, often canvassing local business for donations to their silent auction, or investing in big items like widescreen TVs and barbeques in hopes of turning a profit on raffle tickets. In 1975, Wheeler and her fiancé raised $600, which they spent on a washer and dryer for their new home. In 2010, Portage la Prairie native Lisa Casper and her fiancé raised $8, 000, which covered part of their wedding reception costs.

Casper, a 28-year-old food development scientist, admits that while socials can seem like a cash-grab at first, most attendees think they are well worth the money.

“It’s a way to encompass everybody,” says Casper. While she and her fiancé couldn’t invite everyone they wanted to their wedding, they were happy to host over 350 people at their social. Casper says she had no trouble fundraising, and most people agree that weddings are a good cause. In Manitoba’s small towns, she says, wedding socials are often the highlight of people’s social life, especially in winter, which is considered “social season.”

“In high school, I was always way more exited to go to a social than I was to go to a bar,” she says. But she says that even young people have their limits when it comes to supporting new couples.

“If you are older, like in your late ’30s, you shouldn’t really have a social, especially if it’s your second marriage,” she says. “But even then, weddings are expensive. Why not raise money by throwing a party?”

Are Manitoba socials pretty much the same as stag and does, buck and does, and jack and jills? What do you call the version of a Manitoba social where you’re from? We’d love to hear in the comments below.

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The Social: A Manitoba tradition

  1. Really it isn’t all about weddings though. Lots of hockey socials for example, to raise money for a team or league.

  2. In Northern Ontario we call them stag and does. I‘m not comfortable with them and have not attended one, but I know two people that had one.

  3. Manitoba socials are great fun and better/safer than bars when it comes to meeting people. Everyone knows or is related to the couple. This is why you can play 2 Degrees of Separation with everyone in this province!

  4. I am from Winnipeg and absolutely hate socials. I find them to be a complete cash grab where the bride and groom are trying to make as much money off of their friends and family they can. When there is 1 or 2 socials going on every weekend during fall and spring “social season” it’s a bit much. So I have to go to your social and give you money…then there is the wedding shower where I buy a gift for the soon to be couple and then of course give you presentation at the wedding which is a Manitoba norm as well.

    Money money money. I would rather give to a charity in need of my money than support
    your kitchen aid mixer you got as a shower gift that if fact will you really use?

    Call me bitter…but maybe I have just been to a few too many weddings where I hear the bride or groom brag after about how much the “came out with” after a social or wedding. I
    didn’t realize a wedding was supposed to be a moneymaking business for the bride and groom.

  5. The biggest difference between a social and a wedding shower is that you wouldn’t usually bring a gift to a social. I haven’t been to one in ages, but when I was a kid lots of my cousins had them. We also had social type gatherings to celebrate 25th wedding anniversaries. Those were not fundraisers, and people did bring gifts. By the time you have been married for 25 years, the towels and small kitchen appliances you got as wedding gifts are all worn out.

  6. I love socials, it’s such a huge part of Winnipeg’s pop culture. I miss them.

  7. In Thunder Bay, we call ’em shags. No really, shags. That’s what they’re called here.

  8. Socials are a great Manitoba tradition that sadly have become all about cash. I was married in 1985 and back then, socials were a “gift” from your wedding party. The married couple were told what time to arrive…and the planning and work was done by the wedding party. Parents of the couple were guests, along with many friends and family that may not be invited to the wedding. “Arms length” tickets were sold for a “perfume” bottle. It was considered tacky to see parents involved (similar if a mom was to host a shower) And even more tacky for couples to be involved in raising monies for themselves. I actually went to a social this year that the couple had been living together for 20 years, had three kids together…and told everyone it was to raise money for when they have their wedding. Wow! BTW…I was also invited to the wedding…it was presentation. Never saw a thank you note. grrrr. Thanks for letting me vent!

  9. In Thunder Bay we called it a shag. It bothered me when we moved to Winnipeg, and everyone was going on about how it was a “Manitoba thing.” They do it elsewhere, they just call it something else. It isn’t exclusive to Manitoba.

  10. A few corrections. We did not want a splashier wedding than the one we had. In fact, I wanted a simpler at-home wedding. And my parents did not host the social, our best man organized it. It was considered tacky to involve the parents or the bride and groom to be. We were able to buy a new washer and dryer with the money raised, which was a great help! I recently spoke with a young woman who told me they “made” $12,000 at their social!

  11. I’m new to Manitoba and therefore new to the social scene, as it were. I needed a little patient help understanding what I was being asked when tickets were being bandied about…
    “So…it’s a shower?”
    “No, a social!”
    “…like, a party?”
    “No, a SO-SHULL” (Speaking louder and slower helps with us Ontarians.)
    “And I need a ticket.”
    “For this ‘non-party, not-a-shower.”
    “Do I know these people? Do I even know you?”
    “It doesn’t matter! Buy a ticket, and some drinks and a bunch of raffle tickets and, inexplicably, eat free mustard on your cold cut sandwich, after midnight! It’s tradition!”
    “….Is this a trick?”

    They gave up after a while. I did end up going, because peer pressure is a form of bullying I can totally get behind. I had a nice time, but I still don’t understand the concept. It was a bit like a real-life GoFundMe Page and a lot like a fun fair without the terrifying clowns.
    The mustard WAS pretty tasty, though.

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