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Tying the knot with a country backdrop

Terry and Marlene Schmidt have been planning their daughter April's wedding for years - and she's not even engaged yet.

When she does tie the knot, though, her parents have the perfect place to do it: at home, on the banks of the Nith River,which winds through their picturesque rural property in Ayr.

The way Terry and Marlene envision it, their daughter's ceremony will be one of many on the farm. They're launching a rural wedding and events business, where couples can enjoy a back-tonature backdrop for vows, reception and the whole matrimonial shebang.

Marlene and Terry Schmidt

Marlene and Terry Schmidt are adding an amphitheatre
to their Ayr farm to create a unique venue.

"I always wanted to make the farm pay for itself," Terry says.

Not that they haven't already put it to good use. While they've never raised animals or crops, Terry runs a millwright business on the land and Marlene has a hairstyling salon in the 19th-century brick farmhouse. They bought the 33-acre property from Terry's parents in 2000.

"My clients often say they'd love to get married in a place like this," Marlene says, adding that bridal parties frequently take "getting ready" photos in the gardens.

So after helping to put on weddings for Terry's niece and stepdaughter, they felt inspired to turn the property into a dreamy weddingscape.

They purchased a wedding tent big enough to accommodate 250 people, plus a Queen Victoria carriage and two Percheron draft horses for escorting bridal parties in royal style.

They also excavated a stretch of land behind the house for a terrace, a carriageway and a parking lot.

And at the river, they've arranged a series of retaining walls and concrete blocks in a semicircle to create an amphitheatre,where couples can exchange rings.

The Schmidts have grand plans for NithRidge Estate Weddings and Events. They intend to install a pool and a two-tiered fountain on the terrace. They want stone paths, a carriage house, a sixhorse stable and a commercial kitchen. The silo could house washrooms and a lookout.

When they're not hosting weddings, they'd like to bring music and theatre events to Ayr.

But at present, the sizable fountain sits upside down by the barn. The terrace consists of a swathe of ground fill by the patio (it's a work in progress). And the horses live on another farm.

For the first few weddings, they'll rent supplies, including a trailer with washrooms. Terry says he's waiting until gas prices go down to ship their own chairs and tables from China.

So the Schmidts aren't concerned that no one has booked a wedding yet. Terry - burly and tanned,wearing scuffed work boots - jokes that next year he'll get to scale back to 16-hour days, seven days a week.

The Schmidts practically (and literally) live at work. Marlene says brides and their ladies-inwaiting will even be able to stay overnight at the farmhouse, for pre-wedding preening at the salon. The family will share their living quarters withguests from May to October.

"Who else gets a chance to party every weekend and get paid for it?" Terry asks, ever the optimist. He can't even imagine what might go seriously wrong at a wedding.

If it rains, he's got a tent. He figures weddings guests tend to get into the spirit of the day regardless of the weather.

If something breaks, he's got $2 million in liability insurance on the farm, and they'll add other policies as needed.

If they can't do it all, they'll hire people or call on friends and family. (As he speaks, his dad shoves a push mower around the lush lawn).

Terry's not worried about competition, either. He says there are a few other farm venues in Waterloo Region, but doesn't want to name them.

"I'm not interested in what they're doing," he says. "I don't think competition's an issue,when you see what we've got. The competition doesn't have an amphitheatre."

As for the cost,well, they haven't nailed that down. It could be anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 per wedding, depending on what amenities they add to the property and what each couple wants.

A neighbour, Mark Millard, wanders up toward the patio from the amphitheatre with his girlfriend, Bianca Ruge. "Terry," Millard says, "I took my girlfriend to see the Acropolis. She's quite impressed!"

As printed in Record LIFE TUESDAY, JULY 29, 2008

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