Champagne and Chandeliers: Ashley & Samuel's Love Tale at One King West
- Author: Natali Grace Levine
- Wedding date: 07/22/2023
- City: Toronto
Ashley Dunkley and Samuel Gilbert's romance began in a most modern way - a match on Bumble. Ashley recalls, "I was living in Ottawa and he had been staying with his parents in Montreal during COVID. I just flew back from London, United Kingdom after finishing law school. We spoke for a few weeks through text and Facetime and decided that we had to meet."
Their first meeting was serendipitous. "He drove to my house in Ottawa. Of course, he did not come empty-handed. He brought a bottle of Veuve Champagne with him, the exact same champagne I had chilling on ice waiting for his arrival. We instantly bonded."
Their relationship progressed rapidly, with Samuel moving in just two months before heading off to the NHL bubble in Edmonton. "We went old school," Ashley shares, "writing love letters back and forth to one another to help us stay connected in our own sentimental way."
The proposal was unexpected. "I knew it was coming but I did not know when," Ashley shares with a smile. Samuel planned a surprise trip to Tampa Bay under the guise of a work trip. At a renowned steakhouse in Tampa, Samuel led Ashley to a wine cellar under the pretense of taking a photo. "Next thing you know I turn around and Sam is down on one knee," Ashley beams.
Planning their wedding was a year-long labor of love for Ashley and Samuel, culminating in a splendid celebration at One King West in Toronto. "We were inspired by old classic luxury. I, long before being a Bride, envisioned a big long-trained dress with the cathedral veil, big beautiful chandeliers, and dramatic rooms, with simple decor pieces. The exact vision I had come to life," Ashley explains.
"The breathtaking details of the venue itself inspired us the most." They hosted 120 guests, creating an atmosphere of upscale, chic style.
“Being announced as Mr. & Mrs. Gilbert for the first time, as our guests stood clapping their hands along to the music and waiving their napkins is a hard moment to beat” the couple recalls. “Although, our choreographed first dance, that also involved smoke machines and 4 sparklers created such a magical moment, that will live forever in our memories,” they add.
The morning of the wedding was a flurry of excitement. Ashley's creative touch shone through in the invitations and stationery she designed.
Choosing their wedding rings was a special moment. Christine Drake, their jeweler helped them in the process. “We had an idea of what we wanted, but she helped curate our costumed items," Ashley adds, referring to their custom-designed rings.
Ashley's preparation for the big day was a dreamy affair. "My wedding dress from the icon herself, Pnina Tornai from Kleinfeld Bridal. For as long as I can remember, my mom and I loved her designs and we always dreamed about me wearing one of her pieces. As soon as I put the dress on, I knew it was the one," she gushes.
Her accessories included Jimmy Choo shoes and jewelry gifted by her mother. “My mother gifted me the Van Cleef mother-of-pearl necklace with a customized blue diamond, along with a matching bracelet and earrings. I also wore my nanny's pearl diamond ring on my right hand, for my something borrowed,” she shares.
The Suite Fifteen Hundred at One King West served as a backdrop for the bridal photoshoot, filled with emotion and anticipation. For a bouquet, Ashley opted for “white long-stemmed roses from Thyme Studio in Toronto.”
Samuel's morning was marked by style and camaraderie. Dressed in a bespoke Glorius Custom tuxedo, his morning was filled with laughter and good memories. The Ritz Carlton Toronto provided a luxurious setting for his photoshoot, capturing the essence of his excitement.
The first look was a blend of anticipation and joy. "I could not believe how beautiful she looked in her elegant white dress. Her dress was everything and more that I could ever imagine, she was the most beautiful thing that I've set my eyes on. I remember hearing her when she was coming up right behind me and I was so anxious to turn around," Samuel recalls.
Ashley adds with a laugh, "I remember walking around the corner of the cathedral stairs and seeing Sam's backed turn at the top. I remember letting out a little squeal of excitement. As I was walking up the steps I just wanted to run up behind him and pinch his behind, which is exactly what I did! When he turned around and after I was able to give him a big hug, he surprised me by taking off his tux jacket that had a custom liner with our engagement photos from Paris!”
For their pre-ceremony photoshoot, Samuel and his groomsmen explored Toronto's streets while Ashley and her bridal party enjoyed the terrace of Suite Fifteen Hundred. "We wanted to be at separate hotels," Ashley notes.
The ceremony at the Austin Gallery was a blend of elegance and heartfelt moments. Walking down the aisle to 'A Thousand Years' was a truly magical moment for Ashley.
A humorous highlight was Ashley's impromptu "yes" instead of "I do." “It gave everyone in the crowd a good laugh,” she chuckles. One more key moment was when they were signing their marriage certificates. Ashley reminisces, “We played one of Sam's favorite songs, Still Dre, the instrumental version. Our guests loved it!”
The newlyweds' post-ceremony photoshoot in the chairman's boardroom at One King West was a reflection of their love for classic luxury.
"We loved the wood paneling in the chairman boardroom with the extra large fireplace and added candles for the simple fact that it tied into the old classic luxury style that we loved so much. After our ceremony we walked right into the room and just jumped in each other's arms, in complete shock that we were finally MARRIED," Ashley says. "Later that night we really wanted to do a champagne spray on the terrace. I finally changed into my second dress and we popped those bottles outside, cheering to our new chapter as Mr. & Mrs."
"The venue had a charm of its own and it needed very little by way of decor," Ashley states. They chose a romantic theme with candles and white rose bud vases, accented with gold. "From the moment I saw the great staircase, the wood paneling in the chairman boardroom, and the great ballroom, I knew it was exactly the wedding venue that I had always dreamed about," she adds.
Their reception was a vibrant celebration. Dancing to Lady Gaga's 'Hold My Hand' as their first dance was unforgettable.
“We were very big on food and drinks and wanted everyone to enjoy their meals. I love champagne, so as our guests walked into the cocktail room, there was a champagne wall and a selfie welcome mirror to take fun photos in,” Ashley states. “But McDonald's for the late-night snack was the highlight of the night.”
The wedding cake, lovingly made by Ashley's sister, was a beautiful and delicious centerpiece.
When asked about their experience with wedding vendors, Ashley says, “AGi completely blew us away, as well as our guests. Their attention to detail and their team received a standing ovation for their work and dedication. Our flowers from Thyme Studio were beautiful and timeless. All of our vendors and their items came together beautifully. Everyone was great to work with.”
Reflecting on their wedding, Ashley and Samuel are filled with gratitude. "We are so appreciative for our family and friends who joined us on the most special day of our entire lives," the couple says.